In Vietnam, Lunar New Year is the start of a new year of family, community and nation. Tet Holiday is the occasion for Vietnamese to express their remembrance and respect for their ancestors and forward ancestors. It’s also the chance for us to get together to have big meals.
The general process of celebrating is as follow (dates quoted in lunar calendar)
1. Kitchen God Day (Tết Táo Quân) on December 23rd
Kitchen God Day is the grand farewell for three Kitchen Gods (or Tao Quan) on their annual journey to the Heavens. On the day, a lot of delicacies are cooked and altar is cleaned and decorated with flowers and fruits. Three votive paper caps are laid on the altar. At the end of the ceremony, lively carp are freed into a river, lake and pond. The reason is that Kitchen Gods only can travel to the Heaven by riding carps. In addition, Vietnamese people free the carps to show their gratitude and respect for animal worlds.c
2. Wrapping Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Gói Bánh Chưng) on December 26-28th
The traditional Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake is a must dish at Tet Festival. Wrapped in green prynium placentarium, Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake is square and symbolizes the Earth. It’s a chance for family’s members gather around the pot that is used to cook Banh Chung on wood burning stove because it takes about 6-8 hours to cook this food. Everybody talks about things they’ve done in the year, their plan in next year and others. The Banh Chung is the main dish of traditional feast and favorite food on Tet Holiday.
3. Lunar New Year’s Eve Party (Tiệc Tất Niên) on December 30th
Lunar New Year’s Eve Party is the opportunity for family’s member gather at a party with many foods, especially foods for Tet. The party is the end mark of the end of the old year. There are usually two feasts of Lunar New Year’s Eve Party, one is put on the altar to worship ancestors and the other put in the garden to worship the Earth and the Sky. Incense, fake money, candles, betel leaves, betel nuts, tea, wine and Banh Chung… The atmosphere of Lunar New Year’s Eve Party is very warm and fun with lots of smile.
4. New Year’s Eve (Giao Thừa) at 00:00 am on January 1st
After enjoy the Lunar New Year’s Eve Party, all members of family wait for the watch-night time. Fireworks are a popular way to mark the moment in big city in Vietnam. The youth goes out to join the party with the crowd while the elderly and children watch fireworks on televisions. They may countdown the clock and celebrate the new year together.
5. Chúc Tết from January 1st till January 5th
On first five days of New Year, the Vietnamese visit parents, maternal side, teachers, relatives, friends and neighbors. In Vietnam, January 1st is the Tet of Father, January 2nd is the Tet of Mother, January 3rd is the Tet of Teacher. They give the best wishes to each other and give lucky money to children. The visitors usually bring gifts to the visitees. Popular gifts are tea, wine, fruits, candies and cakes…
6. Burning the offerings for ancestors (Hóa Vàng) – on January 4th
On January 4th, we burn the offerings near Tet’s end to see off ancestors. Fake money, clothes and sugar cane are burn as well as provided to ancestors. Sugar cane is considered the walking cane to help ancestor to return to the underworld.
7. Reopening business
Vendors and businessmen usually pick a good date to reopen their business. Some hire dragon dance group to celebrate the day. They hope the business will have good luck in the coming year.
8. Lantern Festival (Tết Nguyên Tiêu) on January 15th
On this day, Vietnamese people usually visit pagodas to pray for health, success and prepare a tray of traditional foods to offer the ancestors. In some region, lantern festival is held to appreciate the bright full moon.
Cleaning and decorating house
The Tet festival is time to say goodbye to the old and welcome to the new. Vietnamese people spend a few days cleaning the houses to get rid of the bad luck of the old year. Some families even repair and repaint the houses. They also decorate the house with lucky trees (apricot blossom, kumquat, ivy tree, marigold…). We also decorate Tet trees which are usually a apricot blossom tree in South Vietnam or beach tree in North Vietnam with red envelopes. The ancestral altar is carefully taken care of, with tray of five fruits, religious rituals and votive papers.
The traditional feast and foods for Tet
So despite difficult family, sumptuous feast is prepared to celebrate the New Year to bless children’s health, success and get lucky. Lunar New Year’s feast usually has 4 bowls and 4 plates which represents the four seasons, the four pillars and four directions of the Earth. Some rich family prepare a feast consisting of 6 plates and 6 bowls which are put to 2 or 3 floors and symbolize fortune.
Foods for Tet
The following foods are often consumed on Tet holiday; some of them are particular to Tet and often associated with the grand celebration:
- Square Sticky Rice Cake, Cylindric Sticky Rice Cake (Banh Chung, Banh Tet)
- Pickled onions (Dưa hành)
- Boiled chicken (Gà luộc)
- Vietnamese pork pie (Giò lụa)
- Frozen meat (Thịt đông)
- Red sticky rice (Xôi Gấc)
- Roasted nuts and seeds such as water melon seed, sunflower seed, walnut… (Hạt bí, hạt dưa…)
- Mung bean pudding (Bánh đậu xanh)
- Jam from tropical fruits and tubers such as tamarind, winter melon, ginger, lotus seeds… (Mứt)