Preparing for Tet – Vietnamese New Year


Vietnam has adopted the Gregorian calendar for official purposes and to make international business deals easier. However, events like weddings, births, and the marking of the New Year, which are deeply rooted in tradition, still use the ancient Lunar calendar. This is the time of year when the Vietnamese get vacation from work, pack their bags, and head to their family’s traditional hometown to celebrate the arrival of another Lunar New Year. They also clean out their homes, rid themselves of unwanted belongings, pay off last year’s debts, and resolve to be kinder to each other in the New Year.

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Before Tet officially starts though, there is a lot to be done! Let’s have a look at what the Saigonese are up to in their preparation for Tet:

Decorating for Tet

As in most Asian countries, the luckiest colors are red and yellow, and this is reflected in the traditional decorations for Tet. Families decorate the inside and outside of their homes, and businesses adorn their shop-front windows. Potted plants, streamers, lanterns and other knick knacks fill the markets to the brim in the weeks before Tet.

Most importantly, every home or business needs a Tet tree, the Vietnamese version of the Christmas tree. In the South trees with yellow blossoms are the norm, and in the North, pink are preferred. Ornaments are hung from their branches, and with a little luck, the flowers will bloom by New Year’s Day.

Kumquat tree
Kumquat tree

Getting the Gifts Ready

Though some Vietnamese kids have started expecting presents at Christmas, the traditional time of year for gift-giving is Tet. Gifts are given to children, friends, relatives, teachers, and bosses or employees. The markets of Vietnam buzz with the racket of millions of people gift shopping.

Children receive envelopes of lì xì, or “lucky money” from older relatives or friends of the family. The kids prize these gifts and count up the total that they’ll get to spend on sweets or toys. US two dollar bills are especially lucky. Be careful if you give out these envelopes though. Always give an amount of money that ends with an even number. Odd numbers would be considered a horrible omen for the new year as they are traditionally reserved for funerals.

Gift basket
Gift basket

Cleaning out the old year, bringing in the new.

One of the most interesting traditions of the Vietnamese New Year is the deep-cleaning of homes and businesses. This is akin to the West’s unofficial “Spring Cleaning,” but in Vietnam it has much deeper philosophical reasons than just “let’s clear out our old crap because now it’s warm enough to take out the trash again.”

By now you’ve probably noticed that the concept of “luck” is central to the celebration of Tet. Good luck and bad luck, it’s all taken into consideration during the Lunar New Year. By cleaning their homes and businesses thoroughly the people believe they’re clearing out any bad luck of the past year, and opening up the place to good luck which will enter their homes and businesses during Tet. Sweeping is avoided during the holiday itself as you could accidentally sweep out the new good luck.