There are many festivals throughout the year in Vietnam; the people enjoy celebrations and the most important one is undoubtedly Tet Nguyen Dan, usually shortened to Tet, which is the Vietnamese New Year, celebrating the arrival of Spring. The date changes each year by the internationally recognised calendar because it follows the lunar calendar. It does mean the date is known decades in advance. In 2017 it is the 28th of January and the following year the 16th of February. Anyone lucky enough to be on a Vietnam tour package that covers the period of Tet is in for a unique experience.
Tet covers three days, sometimes longer but the defined period is three days. It is the chance to forget about the previous year and welcome the new. Central to the whole thing is family, and that means it often involves people travelling back to their family homes from wherever they live their lives currently, perhaps city back to the village? There can be a great deal to do before the big day arrives, certainly cleaning the house before any guests arrive and usually some cooking where it is possible to prepare food in advance. The food served during Tet is traditional and includes banh chung (sticky rice with meat or beans wrapped in leaves), dua hanh (pickled onion and cabbage), canh mang (bamboo soup), cu kieu (pickled leeks) and mut (dried candied fruits). Often families will only eat vegetarian food during Tet.
Every home is decorated with the colours that Vietnamese regard as lucky, apricot blossom which is a lovely yellow and the pink of peach blossom. These colours are regarded as happy ones which will have the added effect of driving away any bad spirits. Each will have been cleaned, as will the graves of ancestors which will be visited through the three days. Offerings of flowers, food and fruit are laid at the altar for ancestors to enjoy.
Indeed, the elderly as well as children certainly enjoy Tet because it is a time when people give out ‘’lucky money’’ to them in red envelopes as part of traditional custom. This can be done at any time but it is often part of a family feast.
The most important thing on the first day is the father’s family. The first guest of the day should be male, someone with a good reputation who is respected; that is a way to ensure good luck in the coming year. This is the day to visit grandparents, any other surviving family to give them all your best wishes.
No one will enter a house uninvited, such is the importance of the day and the belief about how good fortune will come in the year ahead. Just before midnight the home owner will go out, returning as twelve arrives to stop an unwelcome visitor.
No further cleaning takes place during the next three days; the logic is that it would result in good luck being swept away as well. Luck may also desert someone who has had a recent bereavement if they visit anyone on this day or the next two.
The following day involves a similar procedure but this time it is the mother’s family that takes priority.
Day Three is the chance to visit teachers whose guidance helps people follow the right actions in life. Teaching is a highly-respected profession in Vietnam and recognition of teachers is likely to help future good fortune.
Throughout the three days, a visit to a temple with suitable donations is common.
It may seem that because these days are family orientated that there will be little to see for tourists on a Vietnam holiday but there are such things as public performances of dragon dancers that everyone can see although richer Vietnamese may actually pay for a private performance at home. There will be a great deal of music and dance, firecrackers and parades with masks and great costumes.The streets are brightly decorated to add to the whole environment. Each of these things are thought to ward off evil spirits.
Once these public performances finish, families will gather together at home for a feast of traditional food as described above. There are some regional differences; in the north plum blossom is popular, in the North and Central Vietnam, the kumquat tree is popular for decoration because of its fruit which symbolises fertility. Flowers vary from pansies to marigolds and paperwhites.
Tourists on Vietnam travel packages who find themselves in Hanoi during Tet should go to the Temple of Literature to enjoy Tet. It is likely that some people who live in Hanoi will have left for their village home for the duration of Tet.
Calligraphers are busy before Tet preparing the traditional greetings, the most popular of which are:
• Song lau tram tuoi meaning ‘’long life of 100 years’’ which children often use towards elders who are likely to give them ‘’lucky money.’’
• An khang thinh vuong meaning ‘’security, prosperity and good health’’
• Van su nhu y seeks good fortune
• Suck khoe doi dao means ‘’good health.’’
Tet is family time. Many people leave their families and head from villages into the City, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and many more where economic prospects are much better. The experience that a Vietnam travel itinerary offers is a chance to see the whole country, north to south, and city life as well as the natural environment, often with remote ethnic tribes for whom life has changed little over the years. Tet’s importance to local people is that they have the chance to get together, remember their ancestors and seek good fortune in the year ahead.Tradition is very important throughout South East Asia and tourists fortunate enough to be in Vietnam during Tet have one more thing among many to enjoy both in the cities and the small villages that will be part of a standard Vietnam tour package.
Read more: Vietnamese culture