America’s New Year festivities subsided over a month ago, but in Vietnam they’re just concluding their celebrations. Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” and celebrates the arrival of the spring season. Called Tết for short, the festival begins on the first day of the new lunar calendar year and lasts up to a week. This year the holiday began on Saturday, January 28th. Customs vary depending on the region, but center around family fellowship and hopes for the new year.
The first day of Tết is usually reserved for the immediate family. Superstitions dictate that the first visitor of the year will determine a family’s fortune for the entire year, making unannounced visits a major faux-pas. The act of being the first person to enter a house is one of the most important rituals during Tết, and hosts put a lot of consideration into choosing their first guest. Someone successful with strong moral character would be an ideal choice and guarantee the family luck throughout the year. However, as a final precaution, the owner of the house will usually leave a few minutes before midnight and come back just as the clock strikes midnight to prevent anyone else from entering first who might bring misfortune to the household.
In the following days of Tết, people visit other relatives and friends. The second day is usually reserved for friends, and the third reserved for teachers, who are highly respected figures in Vietnam. Performances and parades are common as citizens cause commotions in the streets with firecrackers, gongs and drums to ward off evil spirits. It’s at these celebrations that you’ll see Vietnam’s famous Mua Lan, or Lion Dancing. Dancers costume themselves as the animal, which appears to be a cross between a lion and a dragon and symbolizes strength.
Food also plays a huge role in celebrations, with certain dishes reserved specifically for the holiday. One example of a Tết dish would be Bánh chưng and bánh tét, which is tightly packed sticky rice filled with meat or beans and wrapped in dong or banana leaves. Preparation can take days and parents like to regale children with the histories of Tết while the food boils overnight. Dried candied fruit called Mứt are rarely eaten outside of Tết and in the Southern region family altars are decorated with fruit as an offering.
Tết is the perfect occasion for tourists interested in visiting the thriving Southeast Asian country and experiencing their culture and traditions. But if you’re unable to make the trip, you can check out Tết firework displays in various parts of Southern California and Houston, TX. So if you missed Tết this year, it’s never too early to start drafting your 2018 bucket list!
In the meantime, Happy Lunar New Year to everyone around the world!