Tet, the biggest event of all – Vietnam holidays & festival

Tet, the biggest event of all – Vietnam holidays & festival

You can think of Tet as being the Vietnamese equivalent of Christmas, New Year and the annual holidays rolled into one. ‘Christmas’ as it is Vietnam’s most important religious and family event. ‘New Year’ because it actually is the Lunar New Year. ‘Annual holidays’ since it is the only significant break from work for the majority of Vietnamese people.

DO take into account that although Vietnamese civil servants officially only get four days off, the whole country grinds to a halt one week before and up to two weeks after Tet. In the countryside, Tet is the occasion for a month long holiday, the only break most people will have in their working year. DON’T plan any important meeting, business transaction or access to government services during that period.

DO note that flights into, out of, and inside the country will most probably be fully booked months in advance for the Tet period. Tet (real name: Tet Nguyen Dan) falls on the first day of the first lunar month and marks the advent of spring. In the solar calendar, it usually corresponds to late January or early February. It is a time of renewal and new beginnings, of family reunions and religious ceremonies. Beforehand, debts must be settled, arguments must be avoided, houses must be repaired, cleaned and decorated.

The Vietnamese attach considerable importance to starting the year properly because it is believed that the first day will determine one’s fortune for the rest of the year. Among the many customs associated with Tet is the New Year’s tree or cay quat. A few days before New Year, the streets will be filled with vendors offering this highly decorative mandarin tree, along with flowery branches of peach trees and other decorations. Markets and stores will be completely swamped with clients getting the last items for the preparation of lavish meals and receptions. Although the Government tries to keep prices from soaring during this important period, merchants do tend to make the most of the endless queues of clients.

Traditional meals – especially the banh chung – are an integral part of Tet festivities. Many different ceremonies are conducted at homes or at the pagodas to celebrate this important event. Before midnight, the Spirit of the Hearth is sent to report on the family’s doings during the year that is ending. Special care must be taken to try and have him depart in a positive frame of mind. Offerings and special prayers are addressed for deceased family members. At midnight, in order to ward off evil spirits and welcome the good ones, great noises are made with firecrackers, drums and gongs. A few years ago, firecrackers were banned and replaced with fireworks at different parts of all major cities. Vietnamese place extreme importance on the first visitor to pass the family door in the New Year.

DON’T visit any Vietnamese households on the morning of the first day of Tet unless you have been specifically instructed to do so. Vietnamese will go to considerable trouble to ensure that the first visitor to their home – and even to their office is a ‘proper’ person, i.e. of the right zodiacal sign for the New Year and, if at all possible, a happy, lucky and wealthy person.

Also see:
 A hundred anniversaries and festivals
 The lunar calendar

The lunar calendar

Each of the 12 lunar months has 29 or 30 days forming years with 355 days. Approximately every third year, a thirteenth month is added (between the 3rd and 4th months) in order to keep the lunar calendar in synch with the solar year.

Otherwise, the lunar ‘seasons’ would gradually fall back in the yearly cycle and would loose their link to the agricultural year. The Vietnameselunar calendar started in 2637 BC In ancient cosmogony, Vietnamese used 60-year periods called hoi, divided in six 10-year periods (called can or ‘heavenly stems’) and five 12-year periods (called giap or ‘zodiacal stems’). The combination of a can and a giap uniquely identified each year in a hoi.

You will no doubt discover your giap. According to your year of birth you may be: Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Pig. Hint: all Vietnamese calendars show both the solar and lunar dates. They are a must if you need to track down lunar dates

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