Vietnamese Lunar New Year is NOT Chinese Lunar New Year
It is absolutely mistaken to say that the Vietnamese are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year. Although both countries use the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people have different lunar new year customs, celebrations, and traditions from China.
The History of Lunar New Year in Vietnam
According to the historical documents, in the thirteenth century, Vietnamese people often celebrated the Tet holiday by painting tattoos on themselves, drinking traditional glutinous-rice liquor, using betel nuts to welcome guests, and eating Chung cakes, pickled onions. In the Ly dynasty (1009-1226), many important rituals were made on the Tet festival such as setting up a dome to pray for the rains or building communal houses to crave for a year of abundant harvests. In the period of King Le Thanh Tong (1442-1497), Tet was the most important festival and hundreds of mandarins had to gather at the royal court to celebrate this lunar new year festival with royal families.
How is Tet Holiday Celebrated?
Tet begins with officially starting on the day Mr. Tao (Kitchen God) go back to heaven. On the 23rd of the last month in the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people prepare traditional offerings to send the kitchen god back to heaven. Then A week before the Tet festival, all members of the family clean the house, the garden, the altars, do Tet holiday decorations. Broken things will be repaired, old things will be replaced. Clothes and decorations such as lanterns, distiches, led lights will be bought. All those preparations have the same purpose – to be the best to welcome the Lunar New Year festival and to receive luck as well as fortune.
The Last Day of the Year & Lunar New Year Eve
On the last day of the year, every member of different generations gathers around a grand banquet to enjoy the last meal of the year. The talk at that time is about things already happening in the year. The ambience of the reunion is always the most wonderful and happiest at all.
On Lunar New Year Eve, the young often go out to watch the Tet holiday firework performance while the elderly and adults stay at home making offerings of pig head, boiled chicken, rice, and salt for outdoor worshipping to the Gods and indoor one to the ancestors. They will pray for a new year of luck, health, and fortune to every family member.
After that, the young return home and become the first one to come to the house in the lunar new year. It is believed that the wishes of that person for the host will come true. Then everyone gathers again to drink some alcohol or juice. Then the wishes, as well as plans of every person for the new year, will be shared with others.
During Tet Holiday – Vietnamese Lunar New Year Traditions & Customs
On the New Year’s Day, the first ones who come to visit households—called first-foot—are very important and hence need to be well chosen, as they are believed to hold in their hands the entire luck of the family in New Year (Tan Nien). After that, till the third day or even the fourth day of Tet, individuals meet relatives, friends and colleagues, wishing them all kinds of good things like happiness, health and success. They give children lucky money covered in pretty little red envelopes also because of that reason, as red represents good lucks. Also, they visit pagodas to pray for a good start in the coming year. In addition, sweeping during Tet Holiday is taboo, since this action symbolizes sweeping the luck away. Anyone who experienced a recent loss of a close family member also shouldn’t visit anyone else during Tet Holiday.
There is a saying in Vietnam, (Mùng 1 Tết cha, mùng hai Tết mẹ, mùng ba Tết thầy” (Father’s Tet is on the First Day of New Year, Mother’s Tet is on the Second, and Teacher’s is on the Third). The best illustration of the quotation is that, on the first day, Vietnamese visit their parents on the husband’s side on; on the second day, they turn to parents on the wife’s side; and lastly, they spend their third day of Tet visiting their teachers. All in all, Tet is all about back to origins, wishing for the best, and joining in colourful parties.
During Tet holiday, Vietnamese people often use lucky money which they just received recently to play cards with relatives or friends. Those kinds of games such as blackjack, Lô tô (nearly the same with Bingo), cờ cá ngựa (petis chevaux), etc. are popular choices between family members during the Tết holiday.
After Tết, some will come back to work. But there are still many festivals occur around this month. Especially in the North, lots of festivals start from 6th January of Lunar Calendar until the end of January. Some festivals which attract thousands of locals to come are Hương Pagoda Festival, Khai Ấn Đền Trần in Nam Định Province, Tịch Điền Đọi Sơn Festival in Hà Giang, etc. Each of the festivals has a different meaning. But in general, they all celebrate for a successful year.
Vietnamese New Year Wishes & Greetings
The Tet festival is the main holiday in Vietnam. Therefore, Vietnamese people will give each other the best wishes for a lucky and successful Lunar New Year. Below are some of Tet holiday greetings and wishes with the meanings in English.
- “Sống lâu trăm tuổi” (Live up to 100 years): used by children for elders. Traditionally, everyone is one year older on Tet, so children would wish their grandparents health and longevity in exchange for “mừng tuổi” or “lì xì”.
- “An khang thịnh vượng”: Security, good health, and prosperity
- “Vạn sự như ý”: May myriad things go according to your will
- “Sức khoẻ dồi dào”: Plenty of health
- “Cung hỉ phát tài”: from the Cantonese Gung hay fat Choy (Congratulations and be prosperous)
- “Tiền vô như nước” (May money flow in like water): used informally.
With this last article, we hope that articles in this 7-day Tet series help you understand and have knowledge about the Vietnamese Tet Holiday. On this occasion, we also want to send all the best wishes to you and your family, with a new year filled with joy, full of health, prosperous and “Vạn sự như ý”.