The more popular name for the Vietnamese New Year is Tet, where as the formal name is Nguyen-dan. Tet is a very inportant festival because it provides one of the few breaks in the agricultural year, as it falls between the harvesting of the crops and the sowing of the new crops.Tet is the biggest and the most sacred festival. It is the most attractive to a majority of the Vietnamese.
Time to take place
Tet falls on a time when the old year is over and the New Year comes by lunar calendar. This is also the time when the cycle of the universe finishes: winter ends and spring, the season of birth of all living things, comes.
Preparations before New Year
The Vietnamese prepare well in advance for the New Year by cleaning their houses, polishing their copper and silverware and paying off all their debts.
They observe the custom of the kitchen god Tao for a week before the New Year, they believe there are three gods represented by the three legs of the cooking equipment used in the kitchen. The middle god is a woman the other two are her husbands. It was once customary to provide the gods with a carp on which to travel. The carp represents the second last stage in the process by which animals are gradually transformed into dragons. They buy the carp from the market, bring it home and place it in a bucket of water to place at the altar of the house before it is later set free.
A special rice pudding is eaten at New Year which must be prepared beforehand. The rice pudding is known as Banh chung or Banh tet. The pudding contains Mung beans and pork. New Year foods such as preserved sweets, beef, chicken, fish, oranges, coconuts, grapefruits and other seasonal fruits, especially watermelon. Watermelon is considered lucky because the flesh is red, so the choice of the melon must be taken carefully so as to find one rich in color. The seeds are often dyed red also and served as delicacies.
The last day of the year a plant such as the bamboo tree is planted in the courtyard of their homes. They decorate the tree with bells, flowers, and red streamers. The decorations are not for decorative purposes but are to guard the family against evil spirits.
During the middle of the day an offering is placed on the altar of the household for the ancestor's of the family. This is done every day throughout the New Year Festival and along with that incense is burnt at the altar.
They believed in the custom of the first person through the door in the New Year will reflect the family's future luck and wealth.
New Year's Eve, Giao Thua, is the transition moment between the old year and the New Year. It is one of the most important moments during the Tet holiday. By ten o'clock on New Year's Eve, all streets are deserted. Everyone stays at home awaiting the magic hour of midnight. The even of Tet is celebrated with fireworks. It is believed that the loud noise of the fireworks will scare the evil spirits away. Massive strings of fireworks, the longer the better, are attached to the front of every house. When New Year's Eve comes, everyone competes in firing crackers. Joss-sticks are lit on the family altar and offerings are made of food, fresh water, flowers and betel. Nobody dares sleep at this moment for fear of "loosing one age". All members of the family gather in the living room, pray together, then congratulate the New Year and wish each other the very bests for the coming year; everyone is congratulated and offered wishes for the New Year beginning with the eldest set of parents (usually the grandparents), then the rest of the family according to order.
Mong mot Tet
On the morning of the New Year's Day (Mong Mot Tet), everybody puts on new clothes and joyfully greets each other Happy New Year. Children vow to be well behaved and offer wishes to the adult (parents, relatives, or visitors). The adults, in return, give children money in a red envelop (Li Xi).
People will visit the most important persons to them on the first day, and the less important ones on the second and third days. The first visitor of the year to a house is the most significant, being a portent of the coming year's fortune. Particular care is taken to arrange in advance to have the visitor be rich, happy, and prosperous. After the initial greeting, visitors are served fruit candies and dried watermelon seeds. Tet is the most appropriate occasion for business people to treat each other generously. These Tet visits are taken seriously. It is also customary that people wish each other all sorts of good things. There are many activities at the pagodas, churches, and in the family. Relatives' graves are visited.
Lion Dance (Mua Lan) is a joyful entertainment at the Tet festival in Viet Nam. The Lion is the symbol of power and prosperity. Their dances, accompanied by firecrackers, frighten away bad spirits. Wealthy families used to set prize money and invite the Lion Dance team to come and dance in front of their house or store. Gambling is also a favorite during the three days of Tet and beyond.
For three days, one takes extra care not to show anger and not to be rude to people. When the holiday ends, people resume their activities in a new spirit following so-called opening rituals in which the ploughman will open the first furrow, the official applies his seal to the first document, the scholar traces the first character with his pen brush, the trader receives his first customer.
New Year with the Vietnamese today
While many Vietnamese today may not believe in these dos and don’ts, these traditions and customs are still practiced. They are kept because most families realize that these very traditions, whether believed or not, provide a continuity with the past and support the family with a strong bond and unique identity.