Whether in ancient times or today, Tet is still the biggest traditional holiday in Vietnam. Not only is it a sacred moment marking the transition between the old year and the new, Tet also reflects Vietnamese people’s outlook on life as well as the profound and unique customs and beliefs bearing the national culture.
While Western countries regard January 1 as the beginning of the new year, Eastern countries follow the lunar calendar, with a new year starting later, in January or February.
In celebration of Tet, every person is busy cleaning and decorating their homes to prepare for the “Ong Cong – Ong Tao” (Land Genie and Kitchen Gods) ceremony on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year. As the legend goes, the Land Genie and the Kitchen Gods will ride carps to Heaven on the day to deliver an annual report on the household’s activities to the God of Heaven.
Vietnamese people believe that Tet marks the beginning of a new year, a day of hope and belief in new and good things and a farewell to the old.
From the 23rd to the 30th day of the last month of the lunar year, family members get together to visit the graves of ancestors, inviting them to celebrate Tet with the family.
In addition to two types of flowers typical for Tet – cherry blossoms and apricot blossoms – Vietnamese people also buy other flowers for worshipping rituals and decoration. Worshiping flowers include marigolds, chrysanthemums, gladioli, and lilies, while those for decoration include roses, dahlias, and violets.
As life is getting better, Tet food is not as important as it once was. Although “banh chung” (a square glutinous rice cake) is no longer a special Tet dish, many families still continue the tradition of making banh chung to give Tet a better atmosphere.
On the afternoon of the last day of the lunar year, after completing all of the work around the home, the family prepares a tray of dishes for offering to the ancestors and grandparents, called the “year-end” tray. It requires a lot of work to cook the different dishes, which include soup, stir-fried vegetables, and meat, especially chicken.
Along with “banh chung” and “cau doi” (or calligraphic couplets), a tray of five fruit is an indispensable item on the altar of every family during Tet. Not only does it make the home feel cosy, the five-fruit tray is also for passing on best wishes.
The act of being the first person to enter a home on the first day of Tet is called “xông đất”. It is believed that the person who enters first will affect the life of the homeowner for the whole year to come. The age of the person is also quite important.
In the first days of the new year, people visit family and friends. Adults give “lucky money” to children and the elderly, and wish for a prosperous and lucky year.
People also practice the custom of visiting pagodas to pray for good fortune. Some buy salt because of the saying: “Buy salt at the beginning of the year, buy lime at the end of the year”. Students often begin a new year writing in the early spring, for a new year of study and successful exams.
Each ethnic group or country has its own customs and practices. Tet in Vietnam is a significant and unique cultural event that has been passed down for centuries. Through the ups and downs of history, many customs have more or less fallen into oblivion or been significantly changed. But no matter where they are, Vietnamese people are always aware of their roots and practice traditional customs./.