Lunar New Year is coming. In many Asian countries, including Vietnam, the preparation for the biggest and most important festival of the year is gradually completed. During the festival, people forget about the trouble of the past year and hope for a better upcoming year.
In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year Festival is called Tết – the shortened name of Tết Nguyên Đán which means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. It starts at the transition of the lunar calendar and lasts for at least three days. Traditionally, the first day of Tết is reserved for the family and that is why many people return home for Tết (similar to Christmas in Western countries). During subsequent days, people visit relatives, friends, and colleagues or go to Buddhist temples to give donations and to get their fortune told.
Tết is accompanied by several customs, such as ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greeting, house decorating, wearing áo dài (not strictly), giving lucky money to children, and cooking special holiday food.
1. Áo dài
Áo dài – the Vietnamese national costume – is a tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pants. It is usually worn on Tết and other formal occasions such as graduation and wedding. The history of áo dài dated back to the 1920s when Hanoi artists, inspired by Paris fashion, redesigned áo ngũ thân (a five-panelled aristocratic gown worn in the 19th and 20th century) as a modern dress. Then, in the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit to produce the version worn by Vietnamese women today.
Áo dài is commonly worn by women but can also be worn by men. The male version, however, is slightly different in fitting style, garment types (usually thicker fabrics), colours and patterns.
Children also have their own version of áo dài. It looks typically simpler and made of materials that are lighter than the one for adults such as wool or linen. In most case, áo dài for girls are collarless, while those for boys still have collars.
2. New Year’s Greeting
The usual greetings are Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year). Other greetings such as wishing for peace, health, longevity, prosperity, and luck are often used as well. Greetings can be expressed verbally or can be presented as Thư Pháp – the Vietnamese calligraphy.
During Tết, the Vietnamese decorate their houses with hoa mai (Southern and Central part) and hoa đào (Northern part). Hoa mai is the yellow flowers that have five to nine petals representing wealth, while hoa đào (peach blossoms) with its red pink color indicates happiness and luck. The peach blossoms are only popular in the North because the tree usually cannot withstand the warm climate of the South or the Central region.
Kumquat trees, chrysanthemums, and marigolds are also displayed because they symbolise fertility, fruitfulness, and longevity.
4. Lucky money
Lucky money is a monetary gift that is typically given during the holiday. It is often given by the elders and adults, where a greeting for health and longevity is exchanged by the younger generation. Typically, the lucky money is contained in a red envelope and is called lì xì or mừng tuổi.
Tết is a wonderful celebration and everyone is welcomed. However, there are a few things that foreign visitors should keep in mind
- During the first three days of Tết, stores, restaurants, and some attractions might be closed. Some locations in metropole like Hanoi or Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) might still open, but research beforehand is recommended.
- Traffic in Hanoi and Saigon will be much less crowded because many people return home for the holiday. However, other destinations outside of the major cities will be much more crowded, especially after the first day of Tết.
- Tết is the time for hospitality. If a Vietnamese, for example, a friend or a colleague, invite you to their house, you should not reject their invitation. However, if you have a recent loss in the family, please deny the invitation and explain the reason. The Vietnamese people believe that, if someone who has recently lost a family member visits their house during Tết, the bad luck of this person will be transferred to their home.