Spirit of Viet Nam consecrated in traditional Tet customs
10:51 | 12/02/2021
VGP – Tet, or the Lunar New Year, is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people. Tet is celebrated from the 1st to the 3rd of the first month in the lunar calendar. People spend weeks preparing for the festive holiday, which is marked by traditions and customs that are rooted in Vietnamese culture.

Carps are released on 23rd of the last lunar month. The Kitchen Gods will ride carps to the Heaven to report households' affairs of the year.

It is a time for welcoming spring, homecomings, decorating, paying respects to the ancestors and looking forward to a brighter future.

To many people, Tet starts on the 23rd of the last month of the lunar year when they hold a farewell ceremony and release carp for the Kitchen Gods to start on their annual visit to Heaven.  The deities of the kitchen, two male and one female, bless households and keep the kitchen fires burning, making every member of the family happy.

The gods ride the carp to Heaven to deliver an annual report on the households’doings, and return to resume their duties on New Year's Eve.

This year, Kitchen Gods' Day falls on February 4.

After the Kitchen Gods leave, families begin tidying and decorating their houses to usher in the New Year, as they believe a clean house represents a fresh start. 

Vietnamese families usually have an altar to pay their respects to their ancestors. The altar is thoroughly cleaned ahead of Tet and a tray of ngu qua or five different fruits together with fresh offerings is placed on it.

Peach, ochna blossomsand kumquat trees are the most popular ornamental plants among most families. They can also be found inoffices and corners of neighbourhood to symbolize warmth, wealth, fertility, fruitfulness and good luck.

They are sometimes decorated with many different kinds of flowers such as roses, daisies, lilies and orchids, as well as beautiful bonsai trees and ornaments, along with traditional Dong Ho paintings and calligraphy drawings.

This is a time to prepare offerings for the ancestors, shop for new utensils, buy new clothes for the family, cook traditional food well ahead of time, and wait for relatives to return home.

Tet sparks the biggest homecoming rush among Vietnamese people for family reunions. Together, they celebrate the festival, forget about troubles of the past and hope for a fruitful upcoming year.

Traditionally, the whole family visits the graves of their ancestors. They clean and decorate the graves and invite their dead forefathers home to enjoy the holidays.

Making chung cake is a long time tradition of Vietnamese people preparing for Tet. Photo courtesy Tran Thi Dinh Anh 
Several days ahead of festival, people prepare ingredients to make banh chung (square sticky rice cake).

Making chung cakes is an aged-old tradition among Vietnamese people. They aremade fromglutinous rice, green beans and pork, and wrapped in dong (phrynium) leaves.

They are presented as meaningful gifts and are an indispensible offering on the ancestral altars.

The preparation of banh chung used to involve the entire family.

People sat around the pot chatting while the banh chung was cooking. They stayed awake or took turns keepingan eye on the fire until the cakes were ready after about 15 hours.

Today, many Vietnamese families buy banh chung from supermarkets, but this special food is still considered a must-have item for Tet.

Erecting the cay neu, a bamboo pole, is a special ceremony held on the 23rd day of the last lunar month.

The bamboo is stripped of its leaves except for a tuft at the top. Different symbolic objects including bows, arrows, bells, gongs and other leaves to ward off evil spirits are hung on the tree to chase away bad luck and welcome a happy year.

The pole is taken down on the seventh day of the first lunar month.

Today, this tradition is no longer that common but can still be seen in rural and mountainous areas.

A tat nien worship ceremony is held on the last day. It is usually a year-end dinner when family members recall their activities, failures and achievements from the year, and set targets for the year to come. Friends are sometimes invited to share in these moments.

Giao thua worship ceremony is an important ritual on the New Year's Eve.

A giao thua worship ceremony is also held on New Year’s Eve. Families pay their gratitude and respect to the ancestors and pray for good luck and success.

The first day of Tet is often reserved as a family day, and people wear their new clothes and offer greetings to each other before children and the elderly receive lucky money.

Since it is believed that the first visitor of the year will decide a family’s fortunes for the next 365 days, aperson of success, morality and happiness is invitedto bring a lucky new year to every member of the household. 

This special activity is xong dat or xong nha which is one of the most important rituals during Tet. The best time for xong dat is from midnight on New Year’s Eve until the following morning. 

The following days are spent visiting relatives, friends and teachers with lucky money give to children and friends.

Hang Luoc Street Flower Market is a famous destination where people can buy different and beautiful flowers for home decoration in Tet

Vietnamese people also have a tradition of snapping off a fresh branch from a tree near their house. This practice is known as hai loc (picking luck) and is practised with the hope of bringing a prosperous new year.

On the first day, people also choose a specific time, route and means of transportation to make sure their first journey, and others through the year, is comfortable and safe.

This trip is often a visit to local pagodas or temples where people come to worship and make donations as they wish for good fortune and happiness, along with a peaceful and tranquil environment.

Xin chu is an activity show Vietnamese people's respect for knowledge. Photo VGP

Xin chu and cho chu, asking and giving for calligraphy from scholars in the first days of the year, is a fine tradition of the Vietnamese people.

Young people ask for scholars' beautifully written words in the hope of better learning. Old people pray for good health, women ask for peace and safety, and businessmen wish for wealth.

These works can be in Vietnamese, Chinese or Han-Nom (Chinese Han and Vietnamese Nom ideographic) scripts written on beautiful do (poohnah) paper.

Furthermore, other traditions and habits are also performed during Tet.

People keep smiling and behave well to ensure good fortune throughout the year. Bad words, swearing, shouting, scolding and crying are not welcome.

People also try to avoid breaking objects as it symbolises separation, a bad sign for relationships, while people believe sweeping will bring luck and money to their homes.

Giving out fire and water and eating dishes such as dog meat, duck or silver carp are not favoured on the first days of the year./.

By Thanh Ha

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