How the Vietnamese Celebrate the New Year

Unlike most countries in the world that celebrate the New Year on the first day of the year, Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Vietnam usually celebrate it in late January or early February.

How the Vietnamese Celebrate the New Year

Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Vietnam celebrate the New Year according to the lunar calendar, that's why their New Year is also called the Lunar New Year. As a Vietnamese, I’m happy to provide you with interesting information about this traditional holiday.

The Lunar New Year in Vietnamese is called “Tết Nguyên Đán” (Tet Nguyen Dan) or “Tết” (Tet) for short. It is the first and most important lunar festival of the year. The date of Vietnamese New Year changes every year and this year it falls on the 1st of February of the solar calendar. The Lunar New Year usually lasts about 14-15 days from the 23rd of December to the 7th of January of the lunar calendar. Tet is an occasion for the Vietnamese to celebrate the transition between the old year and the new year. During this time Vietnamese people, no matter how far they are, try to come back home with their families. That’s why the New Year is also a moment of reunion and joyful encounter. Moreover, Tet is an opportunity for Vietnamese to express their respect to the Gods and their Ancestors. The traditional New Year of Vietnamese people is divided into 3 main stages: the preparation, the Tet, and the end of New Year. Each stage has its rituals, customs, and practices.

The traditional New Year of Vietnamese people is divided into 3 main stages: the preparation, the Tet, and the end of New Year.

The preparation stage

This period lasts from the 23rd to the New Year's Eve of the lunar calendar. During this time, Vietnamese people clean the houses, throw away old or no longer used items. They also have a saying “Đầu năm mua muối, cuối năm mua vôi" (Buy salt at the start of the year, buy lime at the end of it) to refer to painting and renovating the house to make it more beautiful at the end of the year. After that, they decorate their houses with plants and flowers which are typical of Tet and prepare traditional dishes for this holiday. 

The most important occasion of this stage is the Land Genie and Kitchen God worshiping ceremony on the 23rd of December. The Vietnamese believe that not only deciding the good luck and misfortune of the house owner, these gods also prevent the invasion of the devil, and keep the peace of every family. Every year, on this day, Land Genie and Kitchen God go to heaven to report all the good and bad deeds of people in the year so that the Jade Emperor can decide the rewards and punishments. That’s why with the desire to be blessed by the Gods, Vietnamese people often make solemn offerings. Additionally, the vehicle for the Gods to return to heaven is the carp. Therefore, in this worshiping ceremony, there are usually 3 carp. After the offerings are completed, the fish are released, which means Land Genie and Kitchen God have flown to heaven. 

During this period, Vietnamese people also prepare traditional dishes. An indispensable dish in every family is “Bánh Chưng” (Chung cake) and “Bánh Dày” (Day cake). Chung cake, which represents the Earth, has a square shape with fatty meat with mung beans on the inside and glutinous rice on the outside. All the ingredients are wrapped carefully with green leaves. Day cake, on the contrary, has a round, white shape, symbolizing the Sky. Nowadays, people often buy ready-made Chung cake and Day cake for Tết. However, those with suitable conditions often pack their own Chung cake and Day cake, blow the fire and boil they overnight.

As mentioned above, New Year is the time to clean and decorate the house and an inseparable decoration in every Vietnamese house is a pot of plant or flower. It helps bring not only the warm atmosphere of spring but also fortune, health and, money to the owner. The most popular flowers and plants are peach blossom, apricot blossom, and kumquat tree. In the New Year, Vietnamese families in the North often have peach trees or branches to pray for good luck and favorable conditions for the whole year. Southerners prefer the apricot flower because of its yellow color symbolizing prosperity and development. They believe that flowers blooming on New Year’s Day bring good luck, health, and prosperous business. The kumquat tree symbolizes luck, peace, health, longevity, and joy. Therefore, during Tet, most companies and shops choose kumquat trees for decoration.

The Tet

This period starts from the New Year's Eve and lasts until the 7th of January of the lunar calendar. On New Year's Eve, Vietnamese people make offerings, see fireworks, go to temples and pagodas to pray for luck and fortune. When they return, they bring a tree branch home with the hope that good things will come. This is called picking buds on the Lunar New Year.

The Vietnamese also have a very interesting custom of first-footing. To first-foot is to cross the threshold of the house in the New Year and the first person who does this is the first caller. They believe that if the age of the first caller matches that of the house owner, then the owner will have much luck and fortune for the whole year.

Referring to the Lunar New Year, it is impossible not to mention lucky money. Not only in Vietnam but also in China and Korea there is a custom of adults giving children lucky money in the New Year. Vietnamese people often put new money, with special serial numbers, in beautifully decorated envelopes and give them to children and wish them to be happy, healthy and smart.

In addition, Vietnamese people also have taboos in the New Year such as not sweeping the house and taking out the trash because they think this will make good omens go away. They abstain from breaking furniture and dishes because according to the old concept it will lead to arguments and conflicts. At the beginning of the year, the Vietnamese do not borrow money or repay, they do not eat duck, squid, or octopus for fear of bad luck. People try not to be harsh but instead tell happy stories to make the New Year just as joyful.

The Vietnamese have a saying “Mùng 1 Tết Cha, mùng 2 Tết Mẹ, mùng 3 Tết Thầy" (Visit Paternal side on the first day, Maternal side - on the second day and Teachers - on the third day). Therefore, on the 1st day of Tet, Vietnamese people visit their grandparents, parents and relatives of the paternal side. On the 2nd day - the maternal side and on the 3rd - their teachers. From the 4th day onwards, they visit their friends, colleagues or go traveling.

Among students there is also another custom called beginning a new year writing. It’s when they write or draw something for the first time in the New Year. New Year writing does not have a fixed date and time. There are many students who choose New Year's Eve to start writing, some choose the first day of the year. New year writing symbolizes luck and success in study and career, demonstrating the tradition of studiousness and respect for teachers.

The end of the New Year

This is the period when Vietnamese people clean up their houses, remove ornamental plants or flowers, decorations, and rearrange furniture back to normal. After that, people return to work and daily life. Many taboo customs no longer need to be observed. The festivals also end, those, who work far away, again leave their hometown to the place where they work.

As an international student, I have spent two Lunar New Years away from home. For Vietnamese people in Vietnam, New Year is close at hand, but for international students like us, it is thousands of kilometers away. In Russia, it is impossible to decorate the house with peach blossom or apricot blossom, nor go to the temple or pick buds on New Year. However, Vietnamese students still try to celebrate it with a hearty meal on New Year’s Eve. Some traditional Vietnamese dishes can be made with ingredients found in Russian supermarkets. As for some dishes like Chung cake, Day cake, or lean pork pie, you have to go to supermarkets specializing in Vietnamese goods. Such places are decorated so beautifully that I feel like I am in Vietnam to celebrate Tet with my family. After the meal with everyone, we take time to call our families in Vietnam, receive wishes from acquaintances and also wish them a happy new year.

Through this article, I hope everyone learnt interesting information about the Lunar New Year in Vietnam or Tet. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and wealthy new year and may all your Text bywishes come true.


Text by

Van Ly Vu