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-paneled 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.

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Áo dài (Female version)

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.

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Áo dài (Male version)

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.

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Áo dài (Kid version)

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.

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Thư pháp – Vietnamese calligraphy
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Ông đồ (calligraphist) is writing thư pháp
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Calligraphy on watermelon

3. Decorations

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.

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Hoa mai

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. 

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Lì xì (lucky money)

Practical Information

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 holidayHowever, 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.

Chúc mừng năm mới 2017!

28 comments

    1. Many thanks! This year, I won’t celebrate New Year with my family, as I am stuck here with my thesis. But I will meet up with friends on the second and third day, so it won’t be so bad 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That would be an awesome idea! Except I was still working at 9pm on NYE and haven’t been out to take photos!! 😩 No fireworks allowed here…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You welcome! I am glad that you like it. It is slightly pity that many people only know about Vietnam through the war or some delicious dishes 🙂 Our culture is actually centuries-old.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Such an interesting post! I love learning about cultural specifics, especially how Lunar New Year is celebrated here versus in places like Korea. We celebrated “Seollal” here and the traditions are fun to participate in. I’ll likely write something up on it after my current series.

    I have a question about the lucky money though — why is it specifically placed in red envelopes? Is there something symbolic about the color red in Vietnamese culture, or does it stem from an earlier practice?

    Also, this traditional dress looks so stylish in Vietnam! Do people like wearing it? I think it would be fun to wear something so modern, fitting, and colorful! Do most people have a set or is this growing out of fashion?

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    1. Well, our culture is strongly influenced by Chinese culture. So similar to Chinese people, we perceive red as a lucky color. The color of happiness and prosperity. That’s why the lucky money is given in a red envelope 🙂
      Regarding áo dài, it has never been out of trend. Most women have at least one set of it. In fact, áo dài is uniform for school girls and students at some universities. For men, áo dài was not so popular, but recently it is making a come back , especially in special occasion like Tết. I guess most people like wearing it, it is a part of our culture after all 🙂 Overall, I feel ok wearing it, but defitively not in summer. Too warm 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Koreans often wear traditional clothing during special holidays like Chuseok or Seollal or even their weddings, and many complain to me that they find it uncomfortable as well.

        In regards to the color, the reason I asked is because I went to a “color exhibition” at a museum the other day, and it talked about red’s significance to Korean culture, moving between positive associations to negative ones. These days it represents “social cohesion.”

        Red is my favorite color, so I’m just curious! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Red – Fire Element – is also my lucky color, although I don’t often wear it (difficult to combine with other stuff) 🙂 I read a book about colors. It is said that the red color was highly valued not only in Korea, but also in the West as well. In Korea, only the King and high ranking court members (or aristocrats) wore red. In the West, only Emperor, aristocrats, judges, or cardinal wore red. The explanation is that the red colors was very difficult to obtain.
        Chinese and Vietnamese Emperor had another taste 🙂 They prefer the color of gold more than the red color.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Right! I saw the same in Malaysia, where Gold Yellow is the color of the King. So interesting! And in other places, Purple represents royalty. I love culture.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lc, you can get the áo dài for kids in almost any big market in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. For example, the Ben Thanh or Tan Dinh Market in Ho Chi Minh city will surely have it. But for an exactly looking áo dài with same pattern and color, I guess I could not tell 🙂 I hope this information could help.

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