Tet Traditions – How To Celebrate Vietnam Lunar New Year

Tet Traditions - How To Celebrate Vietnam Lunar New Year - Student Exchange

Tết Nguyên Đán, more commonly known by its shortened name Tết, is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. Therefore, learning about Tet traditions will lead you to the soul of Vietnam and give you deep insight into Vietnamese beliefs.

Introduction To Tet Holiday

Its official name, Tết Nguyên Đán, is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the First Morning. However, it is also referred to by many terms, such as Vietnam Lunar New Year, Vietnamese New Year, Tet Holiday, or simply Tet. It’s the most significant holiday in Vietnam, marking the arrival of spring based on the lunar calendar.

Tet Traditions Vietnam - Student Exchange

The dates of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year differ every year, but generally, the Tet holiday takes place around late January or February. For instance, Tet Holiday 2024 started on February 10; Tet Holiday 2025 is on January 29; 2026 is on February 17; and so on. It depends on the lunar calendar.

Because Vietnamese families are so close-knit, the Tet holiday is considered the best occasion for family members to return home and get together. During this holiday, there are lots of intriguing Tet traditions that excite Vietnamese and foreign tourists. In particular, there are different traditions before, during, and after Tet. For example, Vietnamese spend time shopping for the New Year, cleaning their houses, doing several rituals, going to pagodas, and so on.

Tet Holiday Traditions - Student Exchange

The Vietnamese believe that the Tet holiday is an occasion to enjoy life after a full, hard-working year. Thus, people will let go of their struggles and focus on making the celebration as festive as possible. Due to the high regard in which people hold it, Tet, as often as not, is consumed with unique, distinctive colors and flavors. Let’s take a look at Vietnamese Tet traditions to understand more about this special holiday in Vietnam.

Before-Tet Traditions

Go Shopping

The very first Tet holiday tradition is shopping for the New Year. It ranges from food and decorations to gifts and clothes. The Vietnamese believe that everything needs to be the newest and cleanest to welcome the luckiest new year. Here is a list of Tet shopping items that an average Viet will go for:

Offerings: These are important because there are many rituals and ceremonies during Tet, such as the Last full-moon offering, Kitchen Gods, Year-end celebration, New Year’s Eve, etc. Vietnamese people will offer incense, joss papers, food, fruits, and drinks to their ancestors and gods. They believe this is a way to show respect to their forefathers and pray for a fortunate new year.

Tet Offerings - Student Exchange

Food: After all, food is an essential part of the Tet holiday traditions. About a month before the Tet holiday, markets, malls, supermarkets, grocery stores, etc. sell a wide range of food, such as meats, sausages, sweets, and all kinds of ingredients for Tet food.

Vietnamese Lunar New Year Food - Student Exchange

Flowers and plants: These are also necessary for rituals and decorations. The Vietnamese always buy several bunches of flowers, such as peach blossoms, apricots, gladiolus, gerbera, lily, etc., to arrange on altars. Moreover, they will buy beautiful bonsais, kumquats, peach blossoms, apricots, or other types of spring plants as decorations for their house.

Tet Flower Market - Student Exchange
Tet Flower Market – Student Exchange

Gifts: Furthermore, Vietnamese people consider Tet as a chance to exchange gifts with their beloveds and acquaintances. They will seek out the most meaningful, beautiful, and sometimes luxurious things, such as wines, gift baskets, food, etc.

Gifts for Vietnamese Lunar New Year - Student Exchange

Clean And Decorate Houses

House cleaning has become one of the Tet traditions for a long time. Before Tet arrives, family members will gather and share chores to do for their house. Every corner of the house, furniture, and household items will be cleaned and tidied up. They especially focus on the family altar and living room, where they welcome their guests during Tet days. Furthermore, Tet is sometimes an occasion for some families to replace their old furniture with new ones.

After the house is dirt-free, the Vietnamese embellish it with decorations such as flowers, couplets, candy boxes, etc. They strongly believe that a clean and beautiful house shows the coziness of a happy family and will bring luck for their new year.

Tet decorations - Student Exchange

In terms of decoration, traditionally, each family displays cây nêu, an artificial New Year tree consisting of a bamboo pole 5 to 6 meters long. Its top end has many bright decorations, depending on the locality, including good luck charms, origami fish, cactus branches, etc.

Additionally, at Tet, many people choose hoa mai (yellow Mai flower), usually in the central and southern parts of Vietnam. Hoa đào (peach flower) is a common choice in the northern part of Vietnam. Also, hoa ban (orchid tree flowers) are popular in mountainous areas.

Yellow Mai Flower - Student Exchange
Yellow Mai Flower – Student Exchange

More interestingly, in the north or central area, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tet. Its bright orange-colored fruits represent the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year.

Kumquat Trees At Tet - Student Exchange
Kumquat Trees At Tet – Student Exchange

Sweep Tombs

Apart from cleaning their house, the Vietnamese also keep a tradition of tidying their ancestors’ tombs before the Tet holiday. Usually, they will do this sometime between the 23rd and 30th of the last lunar month. The descendants sweep the tombs, remove wild weeps, arrange some flowers, offer offerings, usually fruits, and burn incense for their ancestors.

Prepare Food

Tet food traditions make up the core of Vietnam’s biggest national holiday. Vietnamese food, which is a colossal part of the culture, is well-known for its special tastes and impressive appearance. In addition, the best part of that food culture comes at Tet, when people prepare the best food for their families.  Tet is believed to be an “eating holiday” because it’s when people relieve themselves of all worries and indulge in interpersonal connection, festivities, and cuisine.

Food during Tet is traditional and delicious, which brings happiness to the tasters and carries hope for a well-fed new year. Let’s name some indispensable traditional Tet foods as follows:

Banh Chung (Sticky Square Cake)

Bánh Chưng is a food made from glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork, along with many other ingredients. Those ingredients are well covered by green leaves, usually banana leaves, creating a neat square. Legend tells us that Prince Lang Lieu from the Hung King Dynasty invented it with its meaning as a symbol of the earth.

Banh Chung - Student Exchange

Besides traditional reasons, bánh chưng is chosen as the main food for the Tet holiday because it can last for days in Vietnamese weather. It can survive at room temperature for nearly a month.

Gio Cha (Vietnamese Sausage)

Giò chả is a kind of Vietnamese ham or sausage. It is another traditional Tet dish with distinguished flavors. This dish is usually served with sticky rice (xôi) and banh chung. In fact, giò and chả are somehow different. While giò is boiled, chả is deep-fried. Besides, chả is made of lean pork, while chả is wrapped in leaves and boiled but deep-fried in oil.

Tet Food Traditions - Student Exchange

Thit Kho Hot Vit (Braised Pork Belly With Duck Egg)

Thịt kho hột vịt dish is more popularly enjoyed in the south than in the north of Vietnam. However, no one can deny the irresistible aroma, rich flavor, and amazing compatibility of this dish with a bowl of steaming rice. The pork belly and eggs are cooked with coconut juice and fish sauce until they become tender and absorb all those amazing seasons.

It is so popular and easy to make that it has become one of the most popular dishes served during the Tet holiday.

Xoi (Sticky Rice)

Xôi is also a very important part of the culinary Tet traditions in Vietnam. Along with banh chung, sticky rice is the main staple food for the Tet holiday. It can be seen in many forms: Xôi Lạc (sticky rice with peanuts), Xôi Đỗ Xanh (sticky rice with mung bean), and Xôi Gấc (sticky rice with special “gấc” fruit). Among these types, xôi gấc is the most popular because of its special red color. In Vietnamese belief, red symbolizes luck and new achievements for the New Year.

Xoi gac sticky rice - Student Exchange

Mut (Sugar-Coated Fruits)

Mứt Tết is a kind of sugar-coated fruit. It’s more like a snack to welcome guests than a dish to serve in a meal during the Tet holiday. This once-a-year mix of snacks is very large in variety, with so many tastes: ginger, carrot, coconut, pineapple, pumpkin, lotus seed, star fruit, etc.

Mut Tet - Student Exchange

Celebrate New Year’s Eve

The Vietnamese will have a big year-end party on the 29th or 30th of the last lunar month. They will make lots of good dishes, offer them to their ancestors, and invite their relatives or friends to their house to celebrate together. Later on, at the last moments of the year, they spend New Year’s Eve with their family. Usually, family members will watch TV at home, cook banh chung, or go out to see fireworks.

During-Tet Traditions

Many Vietnamese Tet traditions are based on old cultural beliefs that may strike some as a little superstitious. Viet families believe that their activities during Tet must involve happiness, joy, and good luck. Below are some of the popular, long-standing Tet traditional customs that have stood the test of time from generation to generation.

Lucky Money

The first day of Tết is all for the nuclear family. Children receive a red envelope containing money from their elders. Mừng tuổi in the north and lì xì in the south are two terms to refer to this tradition, with the meaning of “happy new age.” Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tet greetings before receiving the money.

Lucky Money Vietnam Lunar New Year - Student Exchange

First Footing

The Vietnamese believe that the first visitor a family receives in the year determines their fortune for the entire year. Therefore, people never enter any house on the first day without being invited first. The Tet tradition of being the first person to enter a house on the new year is called xông đất, xông nhà, or đạp đất. It is one of the most important rituals during Tet.

According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to the family on the first day of the lunar New Year, the entire following year will also be full of blessings. Usually, a person of good temper, morality, and success will be the lucky sign for the host family and be invited first into the house.

Visiting And Greeting

During subsequent days, people visit their relatives and friends. They will come to one another’s houses and give the best greetings. Moreover, it’s the perfect chance for old friends, students, or colleagues to visit their long-time-no-see people. Also, relatives who are away from their hometown for work will have days off to come home and visit their neighbors, relatives, and so on.

Tet Traditions Vietnam - Student Exchange

Pagodas And Festivities

Besides visiting house by house, the Vietnamese also go to pagodas and festivals during the Tet holiday. Going to pagodas to see their fortune-telling lots and wish for the best is one of the popular Tet traditions among the Viet. Moreover, there are lots of festivities during Tet to see. Although each locality will have different festivals, in general, they’re all vivid and imbued with spring vibes.

Vietnam New Year festivities - Student Exchange

Tet Traditions Wrap-Up

In conclusion, the collection of Tet traditions reflects Vietnamese long-standing beliefs, lifestyles, merits, and culture. Those core traditions form the Tet holiday, the most important occasion in Vietnam. With these conventional practices, the Vietnamese become one and strongly build their own identity among the world’s civilizations.

If you want to see Vietnam during Tet, why not book a tour of Vietnam now? Student Exchange highly recommends Hanoi Locals Travel, Culture Pham Travel, Phong Nha Locals Transport, or Hoi An Private Taxi. These are reliable travel agencies in Vietnam. We wish you the best. Thanks for reading.