Vietnamese New Year Traditions
In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán. It is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people during the year. Tết is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd, according to the lunar calendar. Each year a different sacred animal in the Chinese Zodiac controls the luck and destinies of all people. This year will be the Year of the Dog.
Not only is Tết a celebration of the arrival of spring and an occasion to pay respects to one's ancestors, it is also a great opportunity for family to come together. Family members will return to their homeland for a reunion and to savour the flavours of the holiday.
Here are the few must-dos to celebrate a perfect Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
Mâm Ngũ Quả (The Five-Fruit Tray)
The preparation of the five-fruit tray is an essential Tết tradition in every Vietnamese home. The tray symbolises the family’s respect for their ancestors and their wishes for the New Year. Each fruit represents a different prayer for the future. Due to regional differences in climate and customs, people display the Tết fruit in different ways.
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In the North, people believe that the basic elements in oriental philosophy are represented by colours. Metal, wood, water, fire, and earth correlate with white, blue, black, red and yellow respectively. So people carefully choose and organise their fruit according to colour. The northern five-fruit tray often includes, banana, pomelo, peach, mandarin and persimmon.
Due to the weather conditions and red basaltic soil, people in the central areas of Vietnam have a hard time growing many types of produce. These people feel it is more important to show sincere gratitude for their ancestors than to spend too much time making a complicated arrangement. Instead, they use any fruit that they have on hand. Some popular choices for the Central five-fruit tray are dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple, and orange.
The five-fruit tray in the South is themed around the traditional southern wish for a wealthy New Year. The tray has an abundant display and is generally made up of custard apples, figs, coconuts, papayas, and mangos. Families also like to display red watermelons to bring luck for the year.
Normally, in all regions, the tray will be put on the altar in the home, though sometimes people set it up on the table next to a box of candied fruit.
Hoa Đào and Hoa Mai - (The Planting of Peach or Apricot trees)
During Tết people love to look at beautiful flowers because they think certain flowers will bring them happiness and luck in the New Year. People buy peach flowers (in the North) and apricot flowers (in the South) to decorate their homes.
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To make these peach and apricot trees even more beautiful, Vietnamese people often hang twinkly LED lights on them, as well as red lucky money envelopes and small plastic figurines representing the gods of wealth.
These plants are placed in the living room or in front of the house. Some companies put them in their offices to enjoy their beauty and to bring hope for good fortune.
Bánh Tét – Bánh Chưng - (Cylindrical Cake – Square Cake)
As Tết approaches you’ll notice a fire burning all night long on the stove in most Vietnamese homes. The families are cooking the traditional cakes for Tết. Vietnam is a country where wet rice is farmed, so it makes sense that there are many traditional Vietnamese cakes made from it. Bánh chưng and bánh tét cakes are made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork and they are essential foods for the Lunar New Year. The colours of the cake symbolise the earth and the sky.
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The Northerners prepare bánh chưng, a square cake, while the Southerners prefer bánh tét, which is shaped like a cylinder.
Each region has its own customs, beliefs, and methods, however, both cakes hold equal importance for the families that prepare them.
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Bánh Mứt - (Candied Fruit)
Like bánh chưng and bánh tét, mứt is a must-have food for every family during Tết, though, it’s really more of a snack than a kind of food. The mứt is traditionally offered to guests when they arrive at a home to give their greetings and hopes for a happy new year. There are many categories of mứt, such as candied fruit, coconut jam, kumquat jam and sugared apples.
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Cookies, candy and seeds, such as melon and sunflower seeds are also offered during Tết. The sweets and seeds will be put into a beautiful box and placed on the table in the living room, so that families and their guests can enjoy a cup of tea and something to eat while deepening their relationships with one another.
Lì Xì - (Lucky Money in Red Envelopes)
On the first day of New Year, the whole family will dress up and get together to offer New Year’s greetings and wishes to one another. This is a custom that has been maintained for generations.
The eldest members of the family will give red envelopes to the children and young adults, while advising them about their life, school and work. These red envelopes symbolize wishes of luck and wealth for the youngest in the family. After receiving the envelopes, the youth are expected to give some wishes to their elders for good luck, success and good health in the New Year.
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Xông Nhà - (The Aura of the Earth)
On the first day of the New Year, Vietnamese families will carefully choose the first guest to step into their home. If the guest has a good Aura, meaning they are good fit with the zodiac of the homeowner, has good education, and is kind and healthy, then the family will receive luck and good fortune for the year. This is especially common among families who work in business.
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The chosen person may bring some gifts for the children of the house and then he or she will offer his/her sweetest words to the family. The well-wishes will depend on the member of the household. If the person is aging, health and happiness will be hoped for, a businessman might desire luck and wealth, while the children often receive wishes for success with their schoolwork and obedience to their parents.
Bữa Cơm Đầu Năm – (First Meal of the Year)
The Vietnamese believe that Tết is meant for getting together with friends and family. Therefore, the first meal of the year plays an important role in Vietnamese culture. Family members will return to their homelands, even if they’ve been living far away from home for a long time. Tết is a time to enjoy delicious food as a family and to talk about the events of the past year. Normally, the family will cook together and make traditional foods like spring rolls, Vietnamese sausages, bánh tét or bánh chưng.
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Now that you know the proper way to prepare for Tết, let’s enjoy it!
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