Tet Holiday or Tet or Vietnamese New Year is the most important holiday of a year of Vietnamese people. Tet Holiday lasts from the 1st to the 3rd of the first lunar month. What meaning does Tet Holiday have? What activities do Vietnamese people have before, on and after Tet Holiday? Maybe, those are the matters that we need to know.
Tet begins for a new year, which is the time that people dream of a good future. Tết is an occasion that Vietnamese people express their gratitude to their ancestors and benefactors and is also an occasion that the families reunite. This is also an opportunity that people relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery of spring, traditional dishes, tradition festivals, folk games and so on
Vietnamese people have a notion as “living a house, dying a tomb”. A house is a very important possession for an alive person and a tomb is a very important one for a dead person. Before cleaning their houses, Vietnamese people clean the tombs of their ancestors and relatives. The Tomb-sweeping ceremony happens from December 8th to December 25th of the lunar calendar. Each family has its own rules, a family sweeps on the 8th, the other chooses the 15th and so on.
In Vietnam, dead people are usually buried according to each area. On the chosen day, the members of the big family gather at the tomb area of their ancestors and relatives. Firstly, they lay out some offerings in the tomb area to offer to the Earth God. After that, they sweep, clean and wash tombs. Finally, they plug in incense on each tomb.
On this occasion, families organize a rather big in the house to offer ancestors and relatives’ spirits and everyone eats drinks and talks to each other. In the meeting, everybody usually asks each other about health and business because some people seldom meet relatives, even 1 year. Thanks to this occasion, the kinship was strengthened.
Cleaning and decorating houses
On the Tet occasion, each family has to welcome the ancestor and relatives’ spirits and visitors, so they clean and decorate their houses, especially altars. On the altars, there are usually have five-fruit trays and the branches of peach blossom (a kind of flower having a lot in North Vietnam in the spring) or apricot blossom (a kind of flower having a lot in South Vietnam in the spring). The tables and divans are covered flower cloths and mats. All are prepared carefully for a special occasion.
Farewelling the Kitchen Kings
The custom that worships Kitchen Gods belongs to the folk belief of Eastern Asia countries. The people in these countries including Vietnamese believe that there are Kitchen Gods in each home. These gods are responsible for running the housework. The people think that the gods help them have “full rice, warm clothes”. Every year, on December 23rd, the gods come back to heaven to report to Jade Emperor the good or bad things in the past year of the family. The families that carry out lots of goodness would be reward by Jade Emperor. On this occasion, each family organizes a ceremony to farewell the Kitchen Gods coming back to the zenith. The ceremony shows wish to have a peaceful and full life of Eastern Asia people.
Vietnam has 3 regions: North, Central, South. Each region has a little difference in offerings. The North has the votive consisting of 1 the Kitchen Gods’ picture, 1 three-carp picture (or 3 real carps), some money, 1 vase of flowers, 1 censer, 1 fruit tray, 3 glasses of tea, 1 plate of cakes and so on. The Central and the South do not have 1 three-carp picture, instead of people use 1 picture of horse and stork.
All offerings are laid out on the table and are placed in front of the house. Homeowner burns incense, sets on the forehead and pray, “Today is December 23rd of the lunar calendar, we prepare offerings to farewell you to return zenith. Please receive them and go the way peacefully. Please bless our family, in the new year getting to full rice, warm clothes, and peaceful family”. The praying finishes, the homeowner put the incense up the altar and nods 3 times. Finally, the homeowner set all votive into a pot and burned.
Erecting the New Year Tree
The New Year Tree (Vietnamese: Cây Nêu) is a bamboo tree with a length of about 5m or 6m erected in front of a house on December 23rd (in the North), 29th or 30th (in the South) and lowered on January 7th. There are many things put on the top of the tree (depending on the local) such as a bag of betel leaves and areca nuts, a flute, some metal pieces. It is believed that the objects hung on the tree and the sound are in order to signal to the ghost that “this place has the owner, do not come to disturb.” The offerings to offer in ceremonies erecting and lowering the New Year Tree include incense, light, flowers, tea, alcohol, and 1 boiled rooster. Subjects to offer are the Landlord and the Earth God. The customs erecting the New Year Tree is only made in some locals today.
Going to the flower market
Starting on the 23rd, gardeners gather flowers at flower markets in the centers of cities and provinces. The markets are crowded with strollers and buyers on near “Tết” (27,28,29,30). The strollers go to the market to feel the spring is coming, to take photos as souvenirs. The buyers themselves choose the most beautiful pots for indoor decoration on the “Tết” Holiday.
The flowers that symbolize spring are peach blossoms (in the North) and apricot (in the South). The flowers and trees that symbolize good wishes for the new year are marigold flowers and kumquat trees. Marigolds symbolize the wish getting to longevity (Vietnamese, marigold is called vạn thọ. Vạn Thọ means longevity). Kumquat trees symbolize the wish getting to prosperity (Because kumquat trees have so many fruits).
Going to the fair
Every year, the fair usually takes place from December 27th to January 5th of the lunar calendar. The fair hosts many exciting games such as bingo, shooting, throwing circle to the duck, etc. Usually, each district of the cities or provinces has its own fair. The fair is so crowded in the evening lasting from 6 o’clock to twelve o’clock. The fair attracts so many teenagers, even there are some teenagers almost presenting at the fair every evening.
Attending the Spring Flower Festivals
In addition to attending the Fair to play games, people also attend the Spring Flower Festivals to admire the old ornamental plants, beautiful flowers, artificial mountain- islands, country scenes zoomed out. On this occasion, boys and girls dress colorful clothes go up and down, sometimes stopping and look at beautiful flowers, old men watch the old ornamental plants carefully slowly, young couples are with children together happily.
Going to the “Tết” Market
Every year, the “Tết” Market happens on December 28th, 29th and 30th of the lunar calendar (if enough month) or on December 27th, 28th, 29th (if missing month). In Vietnam, in addition to modern supermarkets, there are still so many flea markets. On these days, buyers, sellers are crowded and busy at all markets because everybody needs to prepare everything for “Tết” days, especially food and because all markets do not work on January 1st and 2nd of the lunar calendar.
Typical items of Tet holiday are parallel sentence, peach blossom (in North Vietnam), apricot blossom (in South Vietnam), marigold, Kumquat, pork, square glutinous rice cake (in North Vietnam) cylindric glutinous rice cake (in South Vietnam), pickled onion, pickled small leek, roasted watermelon seed, dried candied fruit. The goods of “Tết” are more expensive than normal days.
East Asian people, including Vietnamese people, believe that after death, the soul would be reborn as a human being, either going to heaven or going to hell. Whether in heaven or in hell, souls also come back to the human being’s world to enjoy “Tet”. Therefore, every year on December 30th (a full month) or 29th (a lacking month) of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people organize the Ceremony Welcoming Ancestors (Vietnamese: Lễ Rước Ông Bà). The ceremony expresses deep gratitude to ancestors, which is one of the spirit beauties of Vietnamese people.
Offerings and the way laying out the tables
The offerings include lights, incense, wine, tea, flowers, fruits, and the foods are made from pork, chicken and duck meat. A typical traditional ancestor altar has 2 steps: a high step and a low step. The high step is for displaying lamps, incense, flowers, fruits; the low step is for displaying foods on the occasions of death anniversaries or Tet days. The offerings of the Ceremony Welcoming Ancestor are divided into several trays. Besides the trays are for the ancestor, there are trays for the Kitchen God (Vietnamese: Ông Táo), the Earth God (Ông Địa), the Gods of Wealth (Thần Tài), lonely souls (Cô Hồn). The tray for lonely souls is placed in the yard.
After completing the table setting, the homeowner burns incense and goes to each tray to invite the gods, ancestors, relatives’ souls, and lonely souls to come back to the home to enjoy the meal. Separately, the homeowner invites ancestor, and relatives’ souls to stay the house enjoy 3″Tết” days. At the end of the ceremony, people usually burn votive.
Welcoming the Kitchen Gods
According to folk beliefs, after a week of working and attending banquets on the heavenly courts, kitchen Gods came back to the earth to run the housework. Therefore, every family organizes the ceremony welcoming them. The ceremony shows the gratitude and respect of families for kitchen Gods, who help families get to be warm and full. The gratitude and respect for the people whom they are grateful for is the good quality of humans.
Offerings and conduction of ceremony
The offerings of the ceremony are usually simple, flowers, tea, fruits, cakes, votive are fine. All offerings are placed on the table in front of the house. Homeowner burn incenses, sets on the forehead and pray, “Today is December 30th of the lunar calendar, we prepare offerings to welcome you. Please enjoy them and bless our family, in the new year getting to full rice, warm clothes, and peaceful family”. The praying finishes, the homeowner put the incense up the altar and nods 3 times. Finally, the homeowner set all votive into a pot and burned.
Offering New Year Eve
New Year’s Eve Ceremony takes place at the contiguous time between the old year and new year, at 12 pm on December 30th (a full month) or 29th (a missing month) of the lunar calendar. The meaning of this ceremony is to remove all the bad things of the past year to welcome the good things of the upcoming new year. This is the most sacred time of the year for East Asia people including Vietnam.
Offerings and the way laying out the tables
Offerings usually include incense, lights, flowers, fruits, tea, wine, square glutinous rice cake (in the North), cylindric glutinous rice cake (in the South), a boiled yellow rooster and a plate of momordica cochinchinensis (Vietnamese: gấc, one of special fruit grown in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam. The local people usually use the ripe fruits for cooking sticky rice.) stick rice. Depending on the locality, the offerings are slightly different.
The offerings are laid out 2 trays. A tray is placed in the house, a tray is placed in the yard. The tray in the house is used to offer the ancestor and deceased relatives. The tray in the yard is used to offer the officer controlling the soldiers’ souls (Vietnamese: Hành Binh) and the officer controlling the civilians’ souls (Vietnamese: Hành Khiển). Every year, there are 2 new officers replace 2 old officers.
Activities on “Tết” days
Vietnamese people are very respectful for three days of “Tet”. These three days are considered sacred. Each day is for a job, “The first day is for father’s side, the second day is for mother’s side, the third day is for teacher” (Vietnamese: “Mùng một tết cha, mùng hai tết mẹ, mùng ba tết thầy”).
On the first day, early in the morning, children and grandchildren wish “Tết” to parents and grandparents at home. Children and grandchildren usually get to receive lucky money envelopes from their parents and grandparents. After that, people usually go to visit the relatives of the father’s side. On the second day, people usually go to visit the relatives of the mother’s side. On the third day, people usually go to visit teachers and friends. Thanks to visiting each other, skinship, teacher-student love and friendship are strengthened.
During these days there is always the least one person staying at home to be ready to welcome visitors. On the altars always have incense-smoke. Offspring offers rice, tea water to ancestors and the souls of the relatives 3 times a day like when they are alive.
The first person visiting a house
According to Vietnamese customs, the first person visiting a house (Vietnamese: người Xông Đất) affects the family’s bad or good results during the year. The person having a good name such as “Phước”,
Lộc”, “Thọ” (blessing, fortune, longevity) brings goodness to the family. Besides the name, the person arrives the house firstly has to good character such as happiness, kindness, tenderness. Someone having a bad name should not come to any houses.
Pick a bud at the beginning of the year
A bud is emerged from the tree trunk or from the axils of leaves. With the hope that everything would good develop in the new year, at the beginning of the new year (after the ceremony offering New Year Eve or early in the morning, on January 1st of the lunar calendar) people come big old trees in the pagoda or the village temple to pick a bud (Vietnamese: Hái Lộc) to bring back to hang in front the house or put on the altar. Nowadays this custom is carried out more popularly in the North than in the Central and South Vietnam.
Offering the End of Tet Holiday
To mark the end of the ‘Tết” Holiday and to farewell the ancestors and the souls of the relatives to the invisible world, on January 3rd or 4th of the lunar calendar, families organize the ceremony of finishing the “Tết” (Vietnamese: Lễ Cúng Tất). The ceremony expresses the folk belief which believes that there is an invisible world, after the death, the human would reborn back the human world or live in the invisible world. The ceremony also shows gratitude and respect of offspring for the ancestors.
Offerings and the way laying out the tables
The offerings of the ceremony finishing “Tết” include lights, incense, alcohol, tea, flowers, fruits and the foods are made from pork, chicken and duck meat. The offerings are divided into several trays. Besides the trays are for the ancestor and relatives’ souls, there are trays for the Kitchen Gods, the Earth God, the God of Wealth, lonely souls. The tray for lonely souls is placed in the yard.
Completing the table setting, the homeowner burns incense and goes to each tray to invite the gods, ancestor, the souls of relatives and lonely souls to enjoy the meal. At the end of the ceremony, the host prays and burns votive to farewell ancestors so that they come back to an invisible world where they are living.
Perform Launch Ceremony
To start the business for a new year and to have gods support to get success in business, people carry out Launch Ceremony (Vietnamese: Lễ Cúng Ra Mắt). The ceremony shows wish to have a warm and full life of people.
Offerings usually have light, incense, flowers, tea, rice alcohol, square glutinous cake (in North Vietnam) or cylinder glutinous cake (in South Vietnam) 1 boiled rooster, 1 large bowl of rice soup, 3 bowls of rice soup. The offerings are placed on the table in front of the house.
After laying out the offerings, the host prays, “I am … I am living at … Today … We prepare the offerings, invite gods to enjoy and please support us about business to have a good result.”. After praying, the host burn votive. Then each person starts his job. A farmer can cut a bunch of grass to bring back to buffalo. A worker brings scissors, hammer to cut, banging. A trader opens the shop selling a few items.
From the 4th of Vietnamese New Year, festivals in early spring begin to take place. Across 3 regions, there are 11 major festivals:
1.Hương Pagoda Festival (Hương Sơn, Mỹ Đức, Hà Nội)
The festival is held from January 6th to the end of March of the lunar calendar. This is one of the largest and longest festivals in Vietnam. Visitors coming to Hương Pagoda not only take part in the journey to the Buddha realm but also get to immerse themselves in the immense mountain river space.
2.Đống Đa Mound Festival (Hà Nội)
The festival takes place on January 5th of the lunar calendar. The festival is held to commemorate the glorious achievements of King Quang Trung. This is an important national celebration. Đồng Quang Pagoda near Đống Đa Mound is the place where happens praying ceremony so that the spirits of the souls of soldiers dying in the Đống Đa Mound Battle get to come to the good realm.
3.Festival to open the seal in Trần Temple (Nam Định)
The festival takes place for 3 days, from the 13th to the 15th of January of the lunar calendar. The ceremony starts at 12 pm, on the 14th. According to history books, in 1258, during the reign of King Trần Nhân Tông, after victorying the Nguyên Mông invaders, the king held a party for three consecutive days and conferred titles for the people having merit. Since then, the succession kings have followed the tradition of opening seal every year to confer titles for the people having merit. Nowadays, people organize the festival to remember the merit of Trần kings. People ask imprints for peace and happiness, and luck in the new year.
4.Yên Tử Festival (Quảng Ninh)
The festival starts on January 10th and lasts until the end of March of the lunar calendar. Yên Tử is not famous for its beautiful scenery, ancient towers, pagodas but also the place where Trúc Lâm Yên Tử zen sect was formed. This is the center of Vietnamese Buddhism.
5.Tịch điền Đọi Sơn Festival (Duy Tiên, Hà Nam)
Happening from the 5th to 7th of January of the lunar calendar. The festival has the meaning of encouraging agriculture. This is a traditional cultural beauty. The Ceremony has had since the tenth century in the homeland of King Lê Đại Hành (941-1005).
6.King Mai Temple Festival (Nam Đàn, Nghệ An)
The festival takes place from the 3rd to the fifth of January of the lunar calendar every year. This festival is organized to remember King Mai Hắc Đế (? – 722). The real name of the king is Mai Thúc Loan, who was born and grew up at Nam Thái commune, Nam Đàn District, Nghệ An Province.
7.Sình Village Festival (Huế)
The festival takes place on January 9-10. This is a traditional wrestling festival with a unique culture of Hue. The festival is not only a traditional spiritual element but also a fun and healthy activity full of chivalry, stimulating the training of health, courage, confidence and cleverness, especially with the young boys.
8.Đống Đa-Tây Sơn Festival (Bình Định)
Đống Đa – Tây Sơn Festival takes place from 4 to 5 of January of the lunar calendar. The ceremony is the occasion to celebrate illustrious Ngọc Hồi – Đống Đa victory and to remember soldiers of Tây Sơn movement, especially King Quang Trung. In addition to traditional rituals, the festival also organizes many folklore activities such as performing martial arts and battles drum of Tay Son, racing boats, singing opera.
9.Bà Đen Moutain Festival (Tây Ninh)
The Bà Đen Mountain Festival takes place from January 10 to January 15, also known as Linh Son Holy Mother Festival. This is one of the biggest spring festivals in the South. The majority of visitors come to pray the Holy Mother for the business having lots of conveniences and the family getting peace and happiness.
10.Bà Thiên Hậu Festival (Bình Dương)
The Bà Thiên Hậu Festival takes place from the 13th to the 15th of January of the lunar calendar. This is a folk festival with a unique cultural characteristic of the Southeast region. The majority of visitors come to pray the Holy Mother for the business having lots of conveniences and the family getting peace and happiness.
11.Đức Thánh Trần Festival (HCMC)
The Đức Thánh Trần Festival takes place from January 8 to 10 at 36 Võ Thị Sáu, Tân Định Ward, District 1, HCMC in order to remember the merit of Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn (? – 1,300). Coming here, besides witnessing a traditional festival, visitors see special historical and cultural relics.