TẾT NGUYÊN ĐÁN
Tết Nguyên Đán
Tết Nguyên Đán AKA Tết - Lunar New Year featival for Vietnam and falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year. For the Vietnamese, it contains a very sacred meaning.
“Tết” is a Sino-Vietnamese 節 for “Feast”.
“Nguyên” 元 means “the First”
“Đán” 旦 means “Date” / “Day”.
So Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning” of a New Agrarian Calendar.
Considered the first day of spring and most important of national holidays in Vietnam, Tet is the annual Vietnamese New Year celebration, coinciding with the Lunar New Year celebrated throughout the world in January or February. It is a time to forget about past troubles and hope for a better upcoming year. Since many people return home for the holiday, busy cities can become almost like ghost towns during the main day of celebration.
Preparations for Tet begin two weeks before the arrival of the New Year. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are bought, and debts are paid off, all done to have a fresh start to the upcoming year. Markets become busy as food is bought for family reunions and special, extensive meals are cooked. This is also a time to buy flowers, such as peach blossoms, kumquat trees, and chrysanthemums. Some streets even be blocked in this occasion. For tourists, this is a great time to be in Vietnam. Everyone is in a very festive spirit and the streets are filled with flowers.
New Year’s Eve has a party like atmosphere. Cities will launch fireworks, people will be making noise with gongs, bells, and firecrackers to ward any an evil or unlucky spirits nearby.
Tet lasts for a total of nine days and the first day of Tet is the most important. Good fortune on the first day of Tet is very auspicious for the remainder of the year. Vietnamese people believe that the first person to enter a household can determine that family’s fortune for the entire year. Families may choose a person of good moral character and success to enter their house first. Then, for several days after the New Year, families and friends pay visits to each other. About four days after the start of the New Year, towns and cities start to come back to life as people return to work and their homes.
*** What to Expect? ***
Mâm ngũ quả (Five-fruit tray)
A “Mam Ngu Qua” on the ancestral altar during Tet holiday symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors, and demonstrates their aspiration for prosperity. Besides, it’s symbol of Pentagon of the globe in Buddhism.
There are some kinds of fruits that may be laid out on the tray include bananas, watermelons, oranges, kumquats, coconuts, apples, persimmons or chilis... Each of one has its own indication. A hand of green bananas, for example, symbolizes one’s wish for the protection of supernatural powers and ancestors, watermelons indicate fertility, and kumquats or persimmons connote wealth and prosperity...
Chưng cake (Sticky square cake)
Chưng cake is a food made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork, added with some other ingredients. Chưng cake is covered by green leaves (usually banana leaves) and symbolizes the Earth, invented by the prince Lang Liêu from Hùng King dynasty.
Giò, chả (Vietnamese sausage)
Giò chả is another traditional food in Tết holiday, and usually served with Xôi (sticky rice) and Chưng cake. Giò is different from Chả since it is boiled while Chả is deep-fried. Chả is also made of lean pork and ingredients, but Chả is not wrapped by leaves and boiled but deep-fried in oil.
Xôi (Sticky rice)
Xôi is also a very important part of Têt holiday in Vietnam. Along with Chưng cake, xôi is the main staple foods for Tết holiday and Xôi Gấc (sticky rice with special “Spiny bitter gourd” or “baby Jackfruit”) is the most favorite because of its special red color – symbolizes the luck and new achievement for the New Year.
Mứt (Dried candied fruits)
Mứt Tết is a snack to welcome guests in this special period. This once-in-year mix of dry fruits is very large in variety, with so many tastes: ginger, carrot, coconut, pineapple, pumpkin, lotus seed, etc.
At Tết, every house is usually decorated by Ochna Apricot Tree (in the central and southern parts of Vietnam) or Peach Tree (in the northern part of Vietnam. In the north or central, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tết. Its bright orange-colored fruits represent the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year.
Xông nhà (House first-foot)
According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to the family on the first day of the lunar New Year, the entire following days in that year will also be full of blessings. People never enter any house on the first day without being invited first. The act of being the first person to enter a house on Tết is called xông đất, which is one of the most important rituals during Tết. Usually, a person who has concordance Zodiac with the host, good temper, morality and success will be the lucky sign for the host family and be invited first into the house.
Lì xì (Lucky money)
The first day of Tết is reserved for the nuclear family. Children receive a red envelope containing money from their elders. This tradition is also called “mừng tuổi” (new age cheering). Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tết greetings before receiving the money.
*** Tips for Traveling During Tet ***
Make all travel arrangements in advance, especially those for one week before and one week after Tet. Prior to Tet everyone is trying to get home, mostly by motorbike, bus, and train. Planes are used less frequently since they are more expensive. Be prepared for higher costs for travel at this time since there is a much greater demand for it. Trains and buses may be overbooked, with people sleeping on mats in the aisles.
Days that you shouldn’t travel
The worst days to travel are two days before Tet and three days after Tet. Unless you have your own transportation, I would plan on staying put in one place during this time. Do not plan on doing much this time, as many tourist sites close during this time. Stay in a hotel with a DVD player or download some movies on a computer or iPad so you have something to do if boredom sets in. There are shops in Hanoi selling DVDs for as little as a dollar a piece.
Finding restaurants is not a problem. Many restaurants catering to tourists remain open during Tet. It’s nice to know that after all of your wandering through quiet, city streets you will still be able to find a good meal.
Get out and celebrate! Some people arrived in Hanoi at least four days before Tet, giving them plenty of time to get in our sightseeing and to get to know the city before museums and businesses closed.
Go shopping at the markets, buy Tet decorations to hang in your hotel room, send “lucky money” home in red envelopes, join in the festivities around the city. It’s nice to walk around Hanoi before the fireworks and seeing how happy and excited everyone was.
Be ready to listen to ABBA. Yes, ABBA. The song that we heard over and over again before and after the New Years celebration was “Happy New Year” by ABBA.