When many Americans hear the word "Tet," they immediately recall learning about the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. But what is Tet all about?

Considered the first day of spring and most important of national holidays in Vietnam, Tet is the annual Vietnamese New Year celebration, coinciding with the Lunar New Year celebrated throughout the world in January or February.

Technically, "Tet" is a shortened (thank goodness!) form of Tết Nguyên Đán, a way to say "Lunar New Year" in Vietnamese.

Although Tet can be a very exciting time to travel in Vietnam, it's also the busiest time of the year to be there. Millions of people will be moving throughout the country, returning to their home villages to share reunions with friends and family. The Tet holiday will certainly affect your experience in Vietnam.

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What is Vietnam Tet?

First of all, you can check the below video about Vietnamese New Year to have the general idea of its meanings and traditions

Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet is the most important and popular holidays and festivals in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar, a lunisolar calendar. The name Tet Nguyen Dan is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the very First Morning.

Tet takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning their house. There are a lot of customs practiced during Tet such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestral worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people and opening a shop.

Tet is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. During Tet, Vietnamese visits their relatives and temples, forgetting the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year. They consider Tet to be the first day of spring and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).

Visiting relatives during the new year

Like other Asian countries, Vietnamese believe that the color of red and yellow will bring good fortune, which may explain why these colors can be seen everywhere in Lunar New Year. People consider what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, hence people always smile and behave as nice as they can in the hope for a better year.

Vietnamese New Year Traditions

Tet is seen as a chance for a fresh start. Debts are settled, and old grievances are forgiven. Houses are cleaned of clutter and decorated with symbolic flowers. Plants get pruned, and drawers are cleared out. All preparations are meant to set the stage for attracting as much luck and good fortune as possible in the upcoming year.

Superstition permeates the air: Whatever happens on the first day of the new year is thought to set the pace for the rest of the year. Sweeping and cutting (including hair and fingernails) are taboo during Tet as no one wants to unknowingly remove incoming good luck!

Although Vietnamese New Year is observed for 15 days, Tet is typically celebrated for three days with some traditions observed for up to a week. The first day of Tet is usually spent with immediate family, the second day is for visiting friends, and the third day is dedicated to teachers and visiting temples.

Visiting temple to wish for healthy, happy, and lucky year to come

One of the most important traditions observed during Tet is the emphasis put on who is the first to enter a house in the new year. The first person brings the luck (good or bad) for the year! Special people (who are considered successful) dear to the family are sometimes invited and given the honor to be the first to enter. If no one is invited, the homeowner leaves and returns a few minutes after midnight just to ensure they are the first to enter the house for the new year.

Because the primary aim is to attract good fortune for the new year, Tet and Chinese New Year share a lot of similar traditions.

Vietnamese people usually return to their families during Tet. Some return to worship at the family altar or visit the graves of their ancestors in their homeland. Although Tet is a national holiday among all Vietnamese, each region and religion has its own customs.

In general, Tet can be divided into three periods, known as Tất Niên (Before New Year’s Eve), Giao Thừa (New Year’s Eve), and Tân Niên (the New Year), representing the preparation before Tet, the eve of Tet, and the days of and following Tet, respectively. All of these customs are to celebrate Tet in Vietnam.

The general process follows the 9 steps as below (all dates quoted in lunar calendar):

Before New Year's Eve

  1. Ông Công, Ông Táo Day (Kitchen God day) - December 23rd
  2. Wrapping Chung cake - December 26-28th

New Year's Eve

  1. Family reunion and Tất niên - December 30th
  2. Giao thừa - New Year's Eve: including praying sessions to God and Ancestors, Xông đất  (First visit to a family in the new year)

The New Year

  1. First three days of the new year: visit paternal side on the first day, maternal side on the second day and teachers on the third day
  2. Visit relatives, friends and neighbours: can take place from January 3rd - 5th 
  3. Hóa vàng - burn the offerings near Tet's end for ancestors: January 4th
  4. Reopen business: usually owners pick a good date that matches their age
  5. Tết Nguyên Tiêu: January 15th

We will see more detail below in this article.

Before the New Year’s Eve

This period begins one or two weeks before the actual celebration. The general atmosphere leading up to Tet is in the bustle of shopping, decorating the home, cooking traditional Tet food and waiting for relatives to return home. People try to pay off their debts in advance so that they can be debt-free on Tet. Parents buy new clothes for their children so that the children can wear them when Tet arrives.

In the days leading up to Tet, the streets and markets are full of people. As the shops will be closed during Tet, everyone is busy buying food, clothes, and decorations for their house.

Vietnamese families usually have a family altar, to pay respect to their ancestors. Vietnamese families have a tray of five different fruits on their altar called “Ngũ Quả” (five fruits type). During Tet the altar is thoroughly cleaned and new offerings are placed there. Traditionally, the three kitchen guardians for each house (Ông Táo) (Kitchen God) return to heaven on the 23rd day of the twelfth month by lunar calendar to give his annual report on family members to the Jade Emperor. Their departure is marked by a modest ceremony where the family offers sacrifices for them to use on their journey.

Kitchen God riding the fish to go back to heaven

In the days leading up to Tet, each family cooks special holiday foods such as bánh chưng and bánh dầy. Preparations for these foods are quite extensive. Family members often take turns to keep watch on the fire overnight, telling each other stories about Tet of past years. One of very popular traditional food in Tet is Mut (candied fruits) which is not served in the meals but a snack to welcome guests visiting house and always kept in beautiful boxes and placed at the table in the living room.

Decorations

Vietnamese families also buy home peach blossom trees, kumquat trees, and orange trees. They also buy flowers to decorate their homes such as chrysanthemums or orchids. They plant these flowers and put them into beautiful pots in front of or inside the house.

At Tet every house is usually decorated by Ochna integerrima (in the central and south Vietnam) or peach flower (in the North). In the north or central, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tet. Its many fruits symbolize the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year.

New Year Flowers

Flowers are very important decorations for Tet.  Which flowers are used depends on location in Vietnam.

All over Vietnam the most popular plant we saw was the kumquat tree.  Countless times we saw men carrying kumquat trees on their motorbikes.  At times it looked like the tree was driving the motorbike with just arms and legs sticking out of it.

In southern Vietnam we saw tons of yellow chrysanthemums.  Flower markets were erected in fields, in parking lots, and along the road, all of them selling potted chrysanthemums not much smaller than Kara. You can also find the flower markets like this all over the world with Vietnamese communities, only the ones in Vietnam were just ten times bigger.

Peach blossoms are also very popular.  These trees are just starting to bloom and people would buy a branch to take home, their pink flowers filling the city streets.

In southern Vietnam the Hoa Mai tree is very popular, having bright yellow flowers.  The amount of blooms on the tree is linked to how fortunate that family will be.

In the New Year

The first day of Tet is reserved for the nuclear family. Children wear their new clothes, give their elders the traditional Tet greetings before receiving the lucky money from them in exchange.

The traditional greetings are “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân” (gracious wishes of the new spring). People also wish each other prosperity and luck. Common wishes for Tết include:

  • Sống lâu trăm tuổi (long life of 100 years): used by children for elders. Traditionally, everyone is one year older on Tet, so children would wish their grandparents health and longevity.
  • An khang thịnh vượng (security, good health, and prosperity)
  • Vạn sự như ý (may myriad things go according to your will)
  • Sức khỏe dồi dào (Plenty of health)
  • Cung hỉ phát tài (congratulations and be prosperous)
  • Tiền vô như nước (many money flows in like water): used informally

Since the Vietnamese believe that the very first visitor a family receives in the year determines their fortune for the entire year, a person of good temper, morality and success will be the lucky sign for the host family and be invited first into the house. This special activity is called xông đất or xông nhà, which 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.

Sweeping during Tet is a taboo since it symbolizes sweeping the luck away. It is also a taboo for anyone who experienced a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone else during Tết.

During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends. Traditionally but not strictly, the second day of Tet is usually reserved for friends, while the third day is for teachers, who command respect in Vietnam. Local Buddhist temples are popular spots as people like to give donations and to get their fortunes told during Tet.

How to Say Happy New Year in Vietnamese?

Like Thai and Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language, making proper pronunciation a challenge for many English speakers.

Regardless, locals will understand your attempts through context during Tet. You can wish people a happy new year in Vietnamese by telling them chúc mừng năm mới. Pronounced roughly as it is transliterated, the greeting sounds like: "chuop moong nahm moy."

New Year Foods

In Vietnamese language, to celebrate Tết is to ăn Tết, literally meaning "eat Tết", showing the importance of food in its celebration. Some of the food is also eaten year-round, while other dishes are only eaten during Tết. Also, some of the food is vegetarian since it is believed to be good luck to eat vegetarian on Tết. Some traditional foods on Tết are:

  • Bánh chưng and bánh tét: essentially tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in dong (Phrynium placentarium) leaves. When these leaves are unavailable, banana leaves can be used as a substitute. One difference between them is their shape. Bánh chưng is the square-shaped one to represent the Earth, while bánh tét is cylindrical to represent the moon. Also, bánh chưng is more popular in the northern parts of Vietnam, so as bánh tét is more popular in the south. Preparation can take days. After moulding them into their respective shapes (the square shape is achieved using a wooden frame), they are boiled for several hours 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.
  • Kẹo dừa: coconut candy
  • Kẹo mè xửng: peanut brittle with sesame seeds or peanuts
  • Cầu sung 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), goolar fig (sung), papaya (đu đủ), and mango (xoài), since they sound like "cầu sung vừa đủ xài" ([We] pray for enough [money/resources/funds/goods/etc.] to use) in the southern dialect of Vietnamese.

  • Thịt Kho Nước Dừa: Meaning "meat stewed in coconut juice", it is a traditional dish of pork belly 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.
  • Xôi Gấc: traditionally a red sticky rice that is typically prepared by steaming and sweetened lightly, typically paired with Chả lụa (most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine, made of pork and traditionally wrapped in banana leaves). 

Game & Entertainment

People enjoy traditional games during Tết, including: bầu cua cá cọp, cờ tướng, ném còn, chọi trâu, and đá gà. They also participate in some competitions presenting their knowledge, strength, and aestheticism, such as the bird competition and ngâm thơ competition.

Fireworks displays have also become a traditional part of a Tết celebration in Vietnam. During the New Year's Eve, fireworks displays at major cities, such as Hà Nội, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang, are broadcast through multiple national and local TV channels, accompanied by New Year wishes of the incumbent president. 

Gặp nhau cuối năm (Year-end Gathering) is a national favourite comedy show broadcast during the night before the New Year's Eve.

Tet Offensive 1968

The Tet Offensive (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Tết Mậu Thân 1968), or officially called The General Offensive and Uprising of Tet Mau Than 1968 (Vietnamese: Tổng Tiến công và Nổi dậy Tết Mậu Thân 1968) was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the United States Armed Forces and their allies. 

It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name of the offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks took place. 

When is Tet Vietnam?

Check the below table for the date of Vietnamese Tet until 2067

Zodiac Gregorian date
Tý (Rat) 25 January 2020 11 February 2032 30 January 2044 15 February 2056
Sửu (Buffalo) 12 February 2021 31 January 2033 17 February 2045 4 February 2057
Dần (Tiger) 1 February 2022 19 February 2034 6 February 2046 24 January 2058
Mèo (Cat) 22 January 2023 8 February 2035 26 January 2047 12 February 2059
Thìn (Dragon) 10 February 2024 28 January 2036 14 February 2048 2 February 2060
Tỵ (Snake) 29 January 2025 15 February 2037 2 February 2049 21 January 2061
Ngọ (Horse) 17 February 2026 4 February 2038 23 January 2050 9 February 2062
Mùi (Goat) 6 February 2027 24 January 2039 11 February 2051 29 January 2063
Thân (Monkey) 26 January 2028 12 February 2040 1 February 2052 17 February 2064
Dậu (Rooster) 13 February 2029 1 February 2041 18 February 2053 5 February 2065
Tuất (Dog) 2 February 2030 22 January 2042 8 February 2054 26 January 2066
Hợi (Pig) 23 January 2031 10 February 2043 28 January 2055 14 February 2067

Traveling during Tet Festival in Vietnam

What does the Tet festival in Vietnam mean for tourists? It is a particularly good time to visit in Vietnam? Should I time my Vietnam visit to avoid Tet? Many travelers have such doubts in mind. To help you make the decision, here are some facts to know about Vietnam during Tet Holiday:

  1. Transportation: flights, buses and trains about 1 week before or after Tet Holiday are often booked out well in advance as Vietnamese travel a lot this time (return home/go back for work). Be sure to book early. Note: Sonasia Holiday provides private vehicle for customers, so there is no need to worry about short-distance transportation.
  2. Accommodation: most hotels remain open, so there is no need to worry about accommodation. However, some hotels may raise the price if you stay during Tet holiday. 
  3. Sightseeing: some tourist sites remain open during Tet, but many museums, mausoleums, and indoor exhibition place and art houses will be closed at the first 3 days of Tet. The floating markets in the Mekong Delta will be closed. 
  4. Restaurants: many restaurants will be closed during Tet. Therefore, Tet may not be the best time for culinary tour fans. 
  5. Shops: many shops will be closed for the first few days of Tet Festival. The good news is - many products will be sold at a very reasonable price because most sellers want to start a smooth sales year. 
  6. Banks: banks will be closed for the holiday. 

Overall, Tet is not the best time to travel to Vietnam, but will all these factors spoil your Vietnam holiday during Tet? Not really. Here are some good parts of Tet for travelers:

  1. The country is vibrant and colorful during this time, and you will have a chance to learn more about culture of Vietnam.
  2. Streets are quiet and light in traffic during Tet. Beaches will be less crowded - overall Tet is a great time for those who enjoy the tranquility. 
  3. Streets are elaborately decorated, and everybody looks happy. Just enjoy the festive mood!
  4. Hotels and travel agents still work during Tet holiday. Some hotels will have special nights or New Year celebration.

Our tips for traveling during Tet in Vietnam

If you're planning to visit Vietnam during Tet holiday, here are some tips.

  1. Be sure to plan and book your Vietnam tour early so that tickets can be guaranteed. Booking two or four months ahead is not a bad idea. 
  2. Book hotels early. There are three reasons: you can enjoy a relatively low price; avoid the risk of having no room to stay; there are more choices if book early.
  3. Since some tourist sites are closed during Tet, it’s wise to plan your itinerary accordingly: visit the museums and such just before or after Tet, and relax or walk around Hanoi Old Quarter or go sunbathing in beaches during Tet. 
  4. For travelers, dining at hotel restaurants is the option since most restaurants are closed.
  5. If you are in need of some currency changed, do this in hotels though the exchange rate might be less than favorable. 
  6. Try not to bargain because it will be considered to bring about bad luck for the whole new year. If you have to do, be very politely.

All in all, if you're planning to visit Vietnam during or around Tet Holiday, be sure to prepare your trip ahead of time!

What's the weather like during Tet Vietnam?

The Tet Holiday usually falls in mid-January or February. Dry, bright weather is expected across Vietnam. Temperatures in the north (Hanoi, Halong Bay) will be relatively cool (avg temp: 17 °C) but higher in central Vietnam (Hoi An, Danang, Hue, Nha Trang, etc) and South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta) (avg temp: 25-28 °C).

Celebrations of Lunar New Year in other parts of Asia

During the same period, there are some other parts in Asia also celebrate the new year with quite the same meaning & traditions such as China, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, or Tibetan

Some countries celebrate the new year during March or April depending on the calendar that they follow such as Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia.

For further detail you can check our article about the New Year’s Traditions in Asia

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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