Tet is the abbreviation of Tet Nguyen Dan which means the first morning of the first day of the new period. Tet marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar, and the beginning of Spring. Vietnamese are constantly aware of the phases of the moon
Tet is a huge celebration lasting three days. Families save money, store food, and plan far in advance for Tet, major holiday in Vietnam. The Vietnamese take extreme care to start the New Year out right. They buy new clothes, paint and clean their homes, cook three days worth of food, pay off all debts and make amends to rid themselves of all bad feelings. Cleaning is frowned on during Tet because one would not want to sweep out any good luck. Digging and drawing water is also not allowed so the ground and water can enjoy the holiday.
The marketplace is very busy the week before Tet, as people buy food, trinkets, firecrackers, flowers, and other items in anticipation of the holiday. At four o’clock in the afternoon on Tet eve all the markets close down so the people can go home and prepare for midnight when Tet begins. Before 1995 firecrackers would explode scaring off all evil spirits and welcoming the New Year. In 1995, because of the huge waste of money and the injury rate, (71 people killed in 1994), the government banned the use of firecrackers resulting in a very quiet Tet.
The atmosphere is very festive. Incense is burned in the homes. The color Red, symbolizing good luck and happiness is seen everywhere. Games of gambling are in the streets, homes and in cars. If a gambler wins then he is said to have good luck gambling in the new year. If a gambler loses, he is said to have good luck in other affairs. There are dragon dances at night. Food is plentiful, homes are decorated, parks are full of crowds of people dressed in their best new clothes, and for three days the people have an ultimate celebration.
Tet is a time for visits from family and friends. The first visitor to a home is very important. If the first visitor is rich, prestigious, or happy then the family will have good fortune that year. Usually this visitor is a relative, but sometimes the family will invite a special guest that they feel will bring them good luck. The first day of Tet is reserved for visiting family and relatives. The second day is set aside for special guests and close friends to visit, and the third day is for teachers and business associates to make a visit. Negative talk, and arguments are taboo. Visitors end their visit with a farewell wish for the family such as, "I wish that money will flow into your house like water, and out like a turtle."
The Vietnamese believe that their deceased ancestors (ong ba to tien)will visit the family for the holiday. Alters are decorated in the homes with incense, flowers, and photographs of deceased relatives. A tray full of fruit, coins, and a tall vase of blossoms are placed in front of the alter symbolizing good luck and prosperity. The third day is also a day to visit the graves of deceased relatives. The graves are decorated with incense, flowers, and candles. Many Buddhists go to their favorite Pagoda to pray for a good year. The Catholics go to a pre-midnight mass.
Not only is Tet the beginning of a New Year, it is also everyone’s birthday. The Vietnamese do not know or acknowledge the exact day they were born. A baby turns one on Tet no matter when he/she was born that year. Children say they were born in the year of the symbol of the lunar calendar for that year. On the first morning of Tet, adults congratulate children on becoming a year older by presenting them with red envelopes that contain "Lucky Money," or li xi. These envelopes are given to the children by parents, siblings, relatives and close friends.
Families choose a Tet tree, or tac, which is a cone shaped fruit tree with miniature oranges just ripening. The more fruit on the tree, the luckier the family. Greeting cards and good luck symbols are hung from the Tet trees. Each family also has a branch of the Mai tree in their homes, a symbol of spring, which bear lucky little yellow flowers.
Vietnamese New Year Customs
1. Clean and decorate the home
2. Literally means "getting new clothes"
3. Farewell ceremony for the Kitchen Gods (Ong Tao)
4. New Year’s Eve
5. The Aura of the Earth
6. Apricot flowers and peach flowers
7. Giving away red envelopes (filled with lucky money)
8. Making offers for the Ancestors
The traditional greetings are "chúc mừng năm mới" and "cung chúc tân xuân" (Happy New Year).
- Sống lâu trăm tuổi (Live up to 100 years): used by children for elders.
- An khang thịnh vượng (Security, good health, and prosperity)
- Vạn sự như ý （萬事如意）(May a 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
- Bánh chưng and bánh dầy: essentially tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in Dong (Phrynium placentarium) leaves. When this leaves is unavailable, banana leaves can be used as a subtitute. Bánh chưng (rectangular) and bánh giầy (circular) are symbolically connected with Tết and are essential in any Tết celebration. Preparation is time-consuming, and can take days to cook. The story of their origins and their connection with Tết is often recounted to children while cooking them overnight.
- Hạt Dưa: roasted watermelon seeds, also eaten during Tết.
- Dưa Hành": pickled onion and pickled cabbage.
- Củ Kiệu: pickled small leeks.
- Mứt: These dried candied fruits are rarely eaten at any time besides Tết.
- Cầu Dừa Đủ Xoài – In southern Vietnam, popular fruits used for offerings at the family altar in fruit arranging art are the custard-apple/sugar-apple/soursop (mãng cầu), coconut (dừa), papaya (đu đủ), and mango (xoài), since they sound like "cầu vừa đủ xài" ([We] pray for enough [money] to spend) in the southern dialect of Vietnamese.
- Thịt Kho Nước Dừa Meaning "Meat Stewed in Coconut Juice", it is a traditional dish of fatty pork stomach and medium boiled eggs stewed in a broth-like sauce made overnight of young coconut juice and nuoc mam. It is often eaten with pickled bean sprouts and chives, and white rice.
- One should give people lucky presents to enhance the relationship between themselves and others: new clothes, peach branches (for expelling evil), cocks (wishing for good manners), new rice (wishing for being well-fed), rice wine in a gourd (wishing for a rich and comfortable life), bánh chưng (or bánh tét) and bánh dày which symbolize sky and earth (for worshipping the ancestors), red things (red symbolizes happiness, luckiness, advantages) like watermelon, dogs (the bark – gâu gâu – sounds like the word giàu – richness in Vietnamese language), medicated oil (dầu in Vietnamese, also sounds similar to giàu).
- One should buy a lot of water for Tết, because people wish for money to flow like water currents in a stream (proverb: "Tiền vô như nước").
- One should sprinkle lime powder around the house to expel evil.
- One should return all things borrowed, and pay debts before Tết.
- Go gambling after you are done with the festivities.
- One shouldn’t say or do bad things during Tết.
- One shouldn’t hurt or kill animals or plants but should set them free. The reason for this originates from Buddhism’s causality.
- One shouldn’t sweep the house or empty out the rubbish to avoid luck and benefits going with it, especially on the first day of the new year. One shouldn’t let the broom in confusion if people don’t want it to be stolen.
- One shouldn’t give these presents to others: clock or watch (the recipient’s time is going to pass), cats (mèo in Vietnamese language pronounced like nghèo, poverty), medicine (the receiver will get ill), cuttle fish (its ink is black, an unlucky colour), writing ink (for the same reason), scissors or knives (they bring incompatibility).
- One shouldn’t have duck meat because it brings unluckiness.
- One shouldn’t have shrimp in case one would move backwards like shrimp, in other words, one would not succeed.
- One shouldn’t buy or wear white clothes because white is the colour of funerals in Vietnam.
- One shouldn’t let the rice-hulling mill go empty because it symbolizes failed crops.
- One shouldn’t refuse anything others give or wish you during Tết.