What Is Lunar New Year in Vietnam & How To Celebrate Tết

Lunar new year Lanterns

Tết Nguyên Đán (Tết for short), or Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. Tết takes place every year between January and early February, this year it fell on the 22nd of January. The holiday is an occasion filled with various traditions, family time, and LOTS of good food. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Lunar New Year in Vietnam and how you can celebrate Tết

What is Lunar New Year?

In Vietnam, Tết Nguyên Đán translates to the ‘Festival of the First Day’. The holiday marks the arrival of spring according to the Vietnamese calendar, and its origins are very closely linked to farming and the beginning of a new harvest cycle. Today, the holiday represents a time that is to be spent with loved ones and it signifies a fresh start.  

Using the Vietnamese zodiac, each year is assigned a specific animal and its specific attributes, a cycle that is repeated every twelve years. 2023 has been assigned as the Year of the Cat, but Vietnam is the only country that follows this. Other countries that celebrate Lunar New Year follow the Chinese zodiac, which has assigned 2023 as the Year of the Rabbit.

Lunar New Year Lanterns

Tết Traditions

While Tết takes place on January 22nd, there are several rituals that take place before the actual day, making it an almost week-long affair. Here are some of the ways people prepare for the Lunar New Year in Vietnam.

1. Clean:

Cleaning the entire house is an important custom representing the cleansing of past misfortunes and making way for a bright new year. Another thing families do together is sweep and clean the ancestral graves. This is done as a purification ritual to avoid an unlucky year, but it is also a chance for everyone to spend some quality time with one another.

2. Get Lit & Dance:

Okay, maybe not the way you’d think, but something along those lines! It’s believed that bad spirits linger close to the dawning of the new year, waiting to enter your house and bring misfortune. To stop this from happening, people light fireworks and perform dragon dances, to make loud noises and scare away evil spirits.

Gold dragon puppet

3. Decorate & Dress Up:

The streets are a buzz leading up to the festival. From shop windows to homes, everywhere you look is beautiful decorated with colorful lanterns and signs that read “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year). You’ll also find ornamental trees such as Kumquat, peach blossom, and apricot blossom that will be decorated with a red envelope, chains of gold coins, and New Year cards. Along with these vibrant decorations, people would wear new clothes, usually red or gold, the lucky colors.

4. Give Presents:

Need we say more? Tết is a time to be spent with the family, which means a lot of people travel far to come back home. Gift-giving is only natural. People also give offerings to their ancestors, chả lụa (a Viet pork sausage) is often placed at the ancestral altar. Or, you can break the rules and give something a little unorthodox… A SANG subscription would be a great gift for any relative who loves an authentic cà phê sữa đá – so basically everybody!

5. Have a Feast & Play Games:

As with any holiday, food plays a major role during Tết. A new year staple is Bánh tét, a savory but sometimes sweetened cake made from glutinous rice with a mung bean and pork filling. Families will also have round red trays filled with different candies to offer all visitors. During the festivities, bầu cua tôm cá (a gambling game) will also be played. Heads up: don’t try and play this game with any Viet grandma, they’re pros at it!

Vietnamese food

6. Ball Out 🤙

The exchanging of red envelopes – easily the most beloved holiday ritual! Red Envelopes filled with Lì Xì (lucky money) are exchanged. Generally, kids must wish their elders in Vietnamese, usually, good health, fortune, and success, and in return, the adults give envelopes of cash. Pro tip: find the cool aunt who will be the most generous.

Red envelop

How Can You Celebrate Lunar New Year?

Wondering how you can celebrate Tết even if you’re not in Vietnam? Well, the best way would be to spend time with your family, eating yummy food and drinking copious amounts of Vietnamese iced coffee

If your mẹ isn’t whipping up a Tết dinner this year, check out our list of the best Vietnamese restaurants in New York and treat your family to some delicious food. Don’t forget to snag some SANG and make it a truly Vietnamese affair! 

Here’s wishing you a Chúc Mừng Năm Mới from everyone at SANG!