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For any foreigner visiting Vietnam between the end of January and beginning of February, there’s probably one question running through all their minds... What is Tet??
January 31 is the first full moon of the New Year. This marks the beginning of 2014 in the Lunar Calendar, the year of the Horse. Locally known as Tết, this holiday is the most important of the year for the Vietnamese people and celebrations go on for a week (or more). If you are visiting Vietnam during this time, it will not be hard to notice the preparations and celebrations taking place.
Beautiful flowers, plants and colorful balloons line the bustling streets, people are busy decorating their houses, stocking up with food, beverage, gifts and ritual items, and children are getting excited for the most fun time of the year (and receiving their little red envelopes of ‘Li Xi’ or lucky money). Signs reading “Chúc mừng năm mới!” (Happy New Year!) will be strung all throughout the major streets, with flashing lights and displays turning every corner lively and festive. It is a wonderful time of the year to be in Vietnam (even if you aren’t Vietnamese), and it’s impossible to miss the buzz of excitement.
Tet is often kicked off with a Lunar New Year’s Eve midnight fireworks display (this year on the 30th), and the first day of the New Year is traditionally spent with close family. Vietnamese often pay respects to their deceased relatives during this time, stay at home and share special meals, sweets and drinks together. After this first formal day, the holiday week is then open to more family, friends and even the lucky tourist passing through. Parties, music, communal meals and celebrations go on for days and nights, with high spirits, laughter and excitement leading the way.
For tourists in Vietnam during this time, Tet is really what you make of it. You may have a difficult time touring certain destinations, as many shops, restaurants and sites are closed. But Tet is the perfect time to cast aside being a ‘tourist’ for a few days and to take on being a local. The Vietnamese are extremely receptive and inviting to foreigners who are looking to celebrate Tet, and your experience with them may very well trump any tourist site you were planning on visiting!
So what are some things you can do to prepare for Tet? Very little is actually expected of foreigners during this time (the Vietnamese understand that Tet is a local celebration). But you may want to stock up on a few things, just in case you are looking to celebrate. Head to the local market and simply ask someone what specific foods you should buy for Tet, and they will direct you towards the right stalls and vendors. Having a stash of little candies and sweets is always good for giving out to children (the older crowd always appreciates beer), and if you’ve made any local friends during your stay, you can give them some small ‘Li Xi’ or ‘lucky money’ (generally only given to young kids and those still in school). But the most important part of Tet isn’t giving and receiving; it’s enjoying family, friends and good health, and kicking off the New Year in a positive way. So if you’re in Vietnam, just enjoy the celebrations and don’t forget to wish everyone “Chúc mừng năm mới!”