Top Meanings and Activities to Do in the Vietnamese Lunar New Year

The Vietnamese people welcome an important New Year following the lunar month, which is called Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnamese or Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

The Lunar New Year is the biggest festival in the traditional activities in Vietnam, is the intersection point between the old year and the new year, between a cycle of operation of heaven and earth, and of all things and plants.

buy flower for tet
Buy flowers for Tet. vinhtd2/pixabay

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year has a profound human meaning, expressing the longevity of life and people’s longing for the harmony of Heaven – Earth – Human. Lunar New Year is the expression of the relationship between people and nature in the spirit of an agricultural culture; the community in villages; with divine and sublime faith in spiritual life.

What are various things in Tet?

In this article, you will find out:

Let’s go deep-dive in each section!

1. Meanings of the traditional new year for the Vietnamese

In the last days of the year, there are too many things to take care of and prepare in a short time, making everyone in a state of hurry and feel pressured. However, in the heart, everyone wants to welcome Tet because Tet has a very important meaning in a year and Vietnamese culture.

1.1 Tet of time for family union

The first sacred meaning of Tet is the reunion. The older you get, the work gets you caught up in it, it’s hard to meet each other.

family reunion tet
Family reunion on Tet holidays. @thaohuynh2010

It is rare for the whole family including grandparents, parents, and children to share a precious holiday like the traditional New Year’s Day.

Even the longest vacation a child takes during the summer isn’t sure if their parents can have free time with them. Therefore, it cannot be more ideal and magical than the traditional Tet holidays. When parents can take their children home, visit grandparents, relatives, and friends with the true meaning of reunion.

Regardless of whether your family plans to return to your hometown, travel, or do some activity together this Tet, just get together first.

This is also the peak season of the year when the means of transport operate at full capacity to connect people living far away coming back their home.

 So many people have planned to book train tickets, bus tickets, or air tickets for Tet to have the home back in advance.

If you travel to Vietnam during the time of Tet, before – during – after Tet, you you have bought the ticket s of airplanes or trains in early advance to avoid getting high price or running out of tickets.

1.2 Warm time of adults

Sometimes, when the busyness and stress at work make many people think of the traditional New Year, there is no longer excitement, no joy. But be honest, almost all Vietnamese people still look forward to New Year’s Eve, still looking forward to the reunion, and still want to see every sign of spring days. All of these things bring the Vietnamese beautiful memories.

Adults just say that worry about Tet, but still, look forward to the Lunar New Year to gather in the family and sometimes expect a ticket to childhood. When seeing a box of jam, and beautiful cakes, almost miss Tet.

That’s why every New Year comes, although the thoughts are different from children’s, in my heart the adults are also looking forward to Tet every hour, every minute. Not saying it out loud, but everyone loves the Lunar New Year no matter how old they are.

tet photo
Adults also wait for Tet. @huanlihit

1.3 Brilliant Tet of children

Contrary to the thinking of adults, children eagerly look forward to Tet every day. Because on the Lunar New Year’s days, they get lucky money (Li Xi), take a break from school, wear new clothes, and spend time with their family.

For children, going out has been so happy, especially the desire to have long trips during Tet holidays, to new lands, to discover many strange things with the whole family, it is a great thing.

That’s right, first of all, almost all the relatives have a pretty long vacation. And the people have time to love and take care of each other. That means the most wonderful time for each family comes in the springtime.

Sometimes we are so busy that every New Year or spring comes, we adults forget the wishes of our children.

Typically, Tet in the eyes of children is always fresh, jubilant, and eagerly looking forward to each day. They have bright new clothes showing off everywhere, going to the Tet market to buy flowers and fruits, welcoming New Year’s Eve, going to the temple to worship Buddha, and visiting family and relatives.

Whatever the adults do for Tet, for children the time stays with all family members and enjoy new colorful things is the brilliant time for them.

>>> You can want to see the eating rules of Vietnamese people.

2. The difference between the past and present Vietnamese traditional Tet

As time passed, everything gradually changed and developed to adapt to the present. Therefore, the traditional Vietnamese New Year is also gradually different from time to time. Surely you also want to learn through some of the differences between the past and present Tet.

colorful tet street
colorful Tet street. @hson/pexels

2.1 Traditional Vietnamese New Year

In the past, the Tet holiday was not only a time to rest, but more importantly, all year round people worked hard, only on New Year’s Days could they enjoy delicious dishes. Therefore, the preparation for Tet is very vital. Many people grown pigs to prepare meat for Tet, and banh chung packages are also prepared very early from the beginning of the 12th lunar month.

Dishes with pickled onions in the past always appeared in every house during Tet. Pickled onions stand in the 6 typical items of the old Vietnamese traditional New Year: Cay Neu, firecracker, green banh chung, fatty meat, pickled onions, and red couplets.

The atmosphere of Tet begins on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month when every house saw Ong Tao off to the Heaven God. From the 24th day onwards, the atmosphere became bustling, children were excited to watch fireworks in the communal yard. Adults go to pay respects to grandparents’ graves, clean ancestral altars, and the house, etc. From the 27th to the 30th of the twelfth lunar month, the family took care of pig slaughter, packed banh chung, and cooked sweets and nuts.

traditional lunar new year
Welcome the traditional lunar new year. Phát Trương/Pexels

2.2 Vietnamese traditional Tet nowadays

Along with the development of the country, life is more and more full, so eating and drinking on the Tet holiday is no longer so important. If in the past, the whole year, only waiting for Tet to eat a piece of banh chung, pork, chicken … now banh chung is sold year-round in the market, meat and fish are daily foods.

Therefore, these are no longer special and basic dishes on the Tet holiday. But, many families still maintain the wrapping of banh chung but just for fun, to get the atmosphere of Tet.

The preparation of Tet is not as complicated as before. All items from fruit, cake, food, drink, and beers in Vietnam are available, just spend one or two sessions to be able to buy enough. Besides, many families now choose to celebrate Tet according to the trend of traveling.

Although there are differences in preparing for Vietnamese traditional Tet, in general, Vietnamese people are still aware of preserving their national identity in ancestor worship and, importantly, family members reunite, gather together to celebrate Tet.

>>> Please see more: The unique customs of the ethnic groups in Vietnam.

3. Annual popular activities on Vietnamese traditional New Year

Decorating the house, setting up the tree, wrapping banh chung, wishing Tet… are annual activities on the traditional Tet holidays of Vietnamese people. Let’s find out what these activities mean below.

3.1 Pray for Ong Tao to heaven

Every year on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, also known as Ong Cong’s Tet, the Vietnamese will hold a ceremony to see him off to heaven.

tet ong tao
Tet Ong Tao. @_hd_home_store

According to the folk tradition, Tao Quan is the name of the three gods of the Kitchen. People believe that the Kitchen Gods bring blessings and virtue to the family, so it is necessary to pay respects to them, so that when the Kitchen Gods come back to tell the Jade Emperor good things about the family.

Depending on the customs of each region, the tray of offerings to Ong Tao will be different. Despite that, the ceremony usually includes fruits, three sets of clothes, incense sticks, Vietnamese sticky rice, tea, boiled chicken, and carp.

Carp is one of the indispensable offerings because according to a legend, the carp is the most intelligent animal in the water tribe. When they successfully cross the hard storms, they will turn into a dragon (please see more about Vietnamese dragon!). Therefore, the carp can bring the Kitchen Gods back to heaven more quickly and conveniently than any other animal.

3.2 Decorate the house

Tet is the time when family members have to spend time cleaning the house, cleaning every corner, throwing away trash and old items that can no longer be used. Next is to rearrange new items, Vietnamese traditional clothes, and Tet flowers.

 After days of hard cleaning, the house becomes clean and shiny, bringing a happy and lucky atmosphere to the family.

However, Vietnamese people also believe that the first days of the year should not sweep the house because fortune and money will follow it and go out. On the third or fourth day, when saying goodbye to the ancestors, the owners can sweep the house.

3.3 Build a Neu tree

This is a custom from ancient times and still exists in the North and North Central regions of Vietnam.

There is a story like this, once upon a time, the demons took over all the land, the people only worked as employees. The demons exploited the people very brutally, so the Buddha helped and taught people how to wisely resist their domination.

Therefore, every year, when bringing the three gods of the kitchen to heaven, no one protects the family again demons. The people often erect a tree to ward off evil spirits. On the tree, there is a red ring hanging with several items (such as garlic) depending on the customs of each locality.

3.4 Wrap banh chung and banh tet

Banh chung and banh tet are typical dishes on Tet holidays in Vietnam. So, from the 26th to the 30th of the 12th lunar month, the elderly men and Vietnamese women will pack cakes and cook them for one day and one night.

Family members gathering together, talking about old memories, telling the past things will make the feelings of loved ones more attached to each other.

banh chung tet
Banh Chung Tet. @longdemon

3.5 Welcome New Year’s Eve

 New Year’s Eve is one of the activities often seen on the occasion of the new year, taking place at 24:00 pm on the last day of the old year, starting a new year. At this moment, each family has two trays of offerings (one inside and one outside the house) to ancestors and “the passing aunts and uncles” to erase all the bad things of the old year and welcome a peaceful, lucky, and happy new year.

The tray of offerings will usually be five fruits, including coconut, papaya, custard apple, mango, and figs. The Vietnamese people chose these types of fruits with the meaning of wishing for binging warmness, happiness, wealth, and health; typically, abstaining from fruits such as bananas, oranges, pears, durians, because they bring bad luck to the most important day of the year.

On New Year’s Eve, many cities across the country will perform spectacular fireworks lasting about 15 minutes. According to tradition, the light and noise of fireworks can ward off evil and bad omens. Right at 00:00 o’clock am in the Lunar New Year, fireworks will be shot into the sky for everyone to say goodbye to the old year and greet the new one.

3.6 Welcome the first new thing (Xông đất)

This long-standing custom of the Vietnamese people is still maintained to this day. After New Year’s Eve, whoever enters the house first with New Year’s greetings will be the one to Xông đất.

Usually, the owner of the house will intend to invite someone with good luck, suitable for the owner to come to his house.

In addition, the first person of Xông đất must be happy, virtuous, and have good health to give fortunes to the family in the new year.

The first person coming to the house will not be kept by the family for long, they just need to come, burn incense, and wish the owner all the best.

The custom of Xông đất shows the spirit towards peace and luck, wishing all family members a favorable New Year.

3.7 Give lucky money and say Tet wishes

Giving lucky money (lì xì) and wishing Tet are customs that go hand in hand, often taking place on the occasion of Tet. You can use Vietnamese money from 10,000 VND and put it in a red envelop to give to the others.

When children and grandchildren come to celebrate the new year, grandparents and parents will give lucky money with the desire that their children will be healthy, happy, and well-studied.

li xi tet
Lucky Money. @tienserinamsinh

3.8 Visit the ancestor grave

Visiting ancestors’ graves is one of the beautiful customs of Lunar New Year. On the morning of the 1st, family members will gather and go to burn incense and visit the graves of ancestors to remember those who have passed away, who gave us life in this world.

3.9 Visit the temple

Many people come to the temple to pray for good luck, peaceful life, a healthy body, and wealth.

They often choose the famous and holy Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam to visit. When coming there, the Vietnamese burn incense and wish good things. After that, they will walk around the temple to enjoy the view as well.

The these activities are good points and make up a unique culture that needs to be preserved. On the other hand, these things can bring warm feelings and give the families or relatives each other with the best wishes in the new year.

Frequently asked questions about Vietnamese Lunar New Year

1. When is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year in 2022?

Vietnamese Lunar New Year usually falls in late January or early February of the solar calendar, the exact solar date will vary from year to year. In 2022, Tet will be January 31, February 1 – 2 and 3, 2022.

2. What is the most important traditional food during Tet in Vietnam?

Almost everyone in Vietnam looks forward to Tet to enjoy Banh Chung and Banh Day. This is a traditional dish that almost every house has to worship and enjoy during Tet.

Although we can find them on normal weekdays, Banh Chung and Banh Day are more meaningful when the Vietnamese celebrate the lunar new year.

3. What do Vietnamese people usually say on Tet?

The most common saying is “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới, meaning “Happy New Year” in English. But you will also be able to hear other phrases such as “Năm Mới, Phát Tài – Phát Lộc” meaning “New Year, More Money – More Luck”, and “Năm Mới, Vạn Sự Như Ý” meaning “New Year, All things as wishes”.

4. Does Tet in Vietnam and China have the same time?

Yes, that’s right. Vietnam, China, and some countries in Southeast Asia share the same lunar calendar, so the time to welcome the lunar new year is the same.
However, depending on each country, customs and activities during the New Year celebration will be different.

[openquestionjson]When is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year in 2022?[closequestionjson] Vietnamese Lunar New Year usually falls in late January or early February of the solar calendar, the exact solar date will vary from year to year. In 2022, Tet will be January 31, February 1 – 2 and 3, 2022.[endanswerjson] [morequestionjson]What is the most important traditional food during Tet in Vietnam?[closequestionjson]Almost everyone in Vietnam looks forward to Tet to enjoy Banh Chung and Banh Day. This is a traditional dish that almost every house has to worship and enjoy during Tet.
Although we can find them on normal weekdays, Banh Chung and Banh Day are more meaningful when the Vietnamese celebrate the lunar new year.[endfaqjson]

No matter where to live and work, at any age, the Vietnamese people are eagerly looking forward to the traditional New Year, the most beautiful season of the year, pretty from scenery, climate to human beings.

Tet in the hearts of each person has a sacred meaning that even if it is repeated every year, almost people never stop waiting for these meaningful days.

The Lunar New Year is the long holiday of the year, it is not only a day of family reunion, to meet relatives and friends, but also a time to express many good thoughts and best wishes in the new year.

The preparation of Tet for many people also becomes an interesting activity when wishing all things are perfect and new. From decorating the house, shopping for everything, preparing the tray of worshiping ancestors, to arranging a schedule to visit relatives, friends, … All are busy, but this reason creates an exciting time to welcome the Lunar New Year with full of meanings.

About the author


Editor at HueFlavor is a15-year local guide, Mr. Ho Thom, who loves local food in Hue as well as in Vietnam. Trusted by hundreds of guests around the world.