In just over one months time will be Tet. Tet is the name for the Vietnamese New Year and is the most observed and celebrated holiday in Vietnam. The word is a shortened form of Tet Nguyen Dan which translates into ‘Feast of the First Morning of the First Day’. The holiday celebrates the arrival of spring, based on the Vietnamese calendar and normally falls in January or February. Officially the national holiday usually lasts for three days however, celebrations and preparations start to a week or ten days before in the south of Vietnam and after this date in the north of Vietnam.
During this period the whole country comes to a complete stop and even slows down dramatically for several weeks during this time period. Nearly everyone is on holiday or is in a holiday mood and it is the peak time of travel to and in Vietnam, as many Vietnamese people return to be with families and friends. Overseas Vietnamese coming back home from abroad, and within the country travelling back to rural areas from the cities they work in. It is a moment when families invite and welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants to join the family’s Tet celebrations. Gifts of food are made to friends, neighbors and relatives in the days before Tet. Other customs such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, and opening a shop are also widely practised.
Tet is a time for getting together and sharing and where most importance is on family members to meet. This custom has become sacred and secular and, therefore, no matter where they are or whatever the circumstances, family members find ways to come back to meet their loved ones, gather for a dinner of traditional foods. Popular foods that are made at this time of year by the majority of households are Banh Chung and Banh tet which are tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in dong leaves, Hat dua (roasted watermelon seeds), Dua hanh (pickled onion and pickled cabbage) and Mut which are dried candied fruits.
The streets are filled with celebrations with firecrackers, drums, bells, gongs, and anything they can think to make as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits. There are a number of parades and dancers hide under the guise of what is known as the lion dancing with an animal that is a mix of a Lion and Dragon which is the symbol of strength in the Vietnamese culture that is used to scare away evil spirits.
New clothes, new haircuts, decorating homes and businesses, visiting friends, paying off outstanding debts are done in the lead up to Tet. Businesses hang festive red banners which read Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year) and city streets are filled with colored lights. There are plenty of markets and stalls all over the towns which sell foods and decorations specifically for the festival. Fireworks displays have also become a popular part of the festival and are watched by millions in person and on TV.