Talking about the New year celebration, you would perhaps think about wild over-night parties, majestic firework shows, and the whole jubilant atmosphere. However, for the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, it might shock you as it is not exactly what you might have pictured. So what is really going on and how to handle Tet?

1. What is Tet?

Tet or Tet Nguyen Dan or Lunar new year is the most important, spiritual, and widely celebrated public festival in Vietnam. This meaningful practice is to express one’s respect, devotion for their ancestors, parents, and seniors in general. It is also the big time to recall the past, appreciate the present, and pray for good fortune and happiness in the future. Everybody is gathering around the table altogether cherishing the moment with their gratitude and respect.

In Vietnam, the whole meaning of the New Year is truly a family affair. New Year’s Day is a public holiday. Those days off which usually last for a week or longer though the length of the holidays varies for different social generations. Schools, offices, and most businesses such as shops, bars, restaurants will be shut down. It can be both somewhat bizarre and surprising at the same time if you are a part of it for the first time during Tet.

2.When is Tet?

Tet dates vary slightly different each year, but it usually comes during the period from late January or early/mid-February. Dates change every year because the festival is based on the Lunar calendar. The lunar calendar associates with the movement of the moon, which usually defines traditional festivals just like this Spring Festival, Mid-autumn day, etc. The lunar calendar also links with 12 animal signs in the so-called Chinese zodiac and 2021 is the Year of the Ox and the cycle will repeat every 12 years.

3. How do Vietnamese celebrate?

3.1 Preparations One Week Before

This celebratory period begins when everybody is doing the “sweeping away the dust”. It is initially a big farewell to the old year with bad luck as you put away old things with bad luck. A thorough cleaning of the house, perhaps a bit of rearrangement with the interiors ranging from the ceiling to the wall, the floor, and kitchenware is essential.

The next thing is an inevitable replacement. You will find it strange seeing people engaging in all kinds of activities. From shopping for foods, drinks, new clothes, snacks, decorating ornaments, and other Tet relating products. It becomes normal that shopping malls and local markets are full of people with their shopping bags. There are also folks singing in the streets, putting up decorations, perhaps throwing firecrackers. You will as well smell the burning sheets of lucky paper for their late loved one from the locals somewhere eventually as a spiritual act.

All of those counted also as a way to keep the customs alive and strong. People meeting up with one another with big smiles, all friendly even with strangers, exchanging best wishes. They believe what they are doing during Tet especially the first day of Tet will determent their fate for the rest of the year.

3.2 Return Home before New Year’s Eve

Huge travel stress perhaps no longer surprises you, but traffic jams throughout Vietnam especially in the bigger and sub-cities plus holidays can drive one nut. Lines after lines of people try to leave the cities as quickly as possible at almost the same time. Since the locals take Tet serious and hard, they do not mind traveling long distances in all kinds of transportation to return to their hometowns. If you are lucky not to find yourself stuck with dozens or hundreds of other people, the best piece of advice is probably to avoid going out a week before Tet.

 The reward after the chaos is a “must-do” dinner. Family reunition with big families, usually, with several generations surround the table, enjoy meals, pray and embrace the precious moment. Dishes with lucky meanings must include Banh chung (Vietnamese Square Sticky rice cake), Gio cha (Vietnamese sausage), Thit kho trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs), Mut (Candied Fruits), melon seeds, etc.

3.3 Celebrations

Besides having meals and with excessive amounts of food in the house, Vietnamese people would listen to holiday songs and Tet local shows. Pay visits to the temples, churches for some small ceremonies also plays an important role in their religious lives. More wishes for their loved ones with health, prosperity, wealth, and blessings generally in the year coming. Homes are filled with Tet striking decorations, various flowers, and the smell of incense hanging in the air. Dragon and lion dances take place in the public streets for any street stroller. It is never too late for a memorable family picture with the vibes that only here once a year

3.4 Visit relatives and friends for a couple days.

Other traditional customs would be giving out red envelopes (lucky money) to the kids. Children who are dressed up in their new clothes will be visiting their relatives with their parents. They receive lucky money from the elders coming with wishes for health, growth, and flying scores with their exams. Red is known as a lucky color in Asia that brings out luck and ward off evil spirits. Wrapping lucky money in red envelopes is expected to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receivers. Receivers should not open the envelopes right in front of the givers as it is rather impolite doing so.

Surprisingly, older people just as anyone can also receive “lucky money” from their grown children, grandkids, family members, co-workers. The meaning then is slightly different along with health, success, long-living, love, security, etc. How much an individual receives depends on who they are and what position they are in, for instance.

On the third day of Tet or later, it is the time to visit relatives and perhaps traveling along. People either are on the go to their holiday destinations or coming to check out someone they know. Loads of people will be using public transportation which can cause domestic travel volume rockets. Trust me, you are lucky that you are not crammed onto the vehicle with hundreds of other people.

4. What can Expats and visitors do during Tet holidays?

4.1 Joining the locals

Do not pass it up if you are ever get invited to bond and join a local family during holidays. Being able to participate is probably the best way to take insights into Vietnamese culture. On the other hand, you play a big part in this huge event. It is, without doubt, an eye-opening experience to dive into it yourself. You will see yourself involving in helping out with food preparation, trying out things that only locals would share with other locals.

4.2 Travelling

In case you have not really spent much time in the country, that is also ok. Traveling when holidays is going manic across the country is not necessarily a bad idea. There are just a few things that you want to take into account.

  • Transportation:

You will need to book plane, sleeping bus, and/or train tickets long before your departure. Months prior might be a safer option to stick to. Big chance that tickets are sold out pretty quickly despite it can get pretty competitive amongst travel transporting agencies. People can jack up the tickets’ price which can go significantly higher even double as a particular rise in demands. Always book in advance and contact your bus/plane/train agency before G day.

  • Accommodation:

You can still pull off your traveling easy with plenty of choices. If you aim to stay in the countryside, there might be fewer options to go through but it does not mean there is none. It is possible to find a fairly – doable – budget guest house if you are lucky. Otherwise, a more modern upscale neighborhood will be less risky in any case.
There are accommodations that drop prices due to the lack of guests, and there will be others trying to overcharge you as it is simply holidays. Take a minute to browse your should help in any case.

And for those who are still looking for a new home welcoming Tet, we strongly recommend you to check out Hoozing. This real estate tech agency hands you with lists of houses that are fully furnished and set up to provide a family-like environment.

  • Shopping, food, and bargain

Shopping right before, during, and a week after Tet can be pretty much tricky. Remember to stock up your water, dried foods, and essentials especially if you are traveling to remote areas. Haggling should be avoided at all costs, cause locals will barely tolerate bargains as it is a sign of bad luck to the entire year. The tip is just to walk away and find another shop.

Even though restaurants can either close at unusual timing or shut completely, there are a few open 24/7 mostly in Expat living districts. Usually, 4 days following Tet, shops, and restaurants slowly but surely back to the business. Stroll around the area of Dong Khoi, Nguyen Hue walking street or consider Uncle Kentucky, BK, and La Lotteria.  A little more proactive and you should be just fine.

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