Vietnam Tet Holiday (Part 4): The Dos and The Don’ts

15 Jan, 2023 | Secrets Untold

As the world has just finished celebrating the new year, Vietnamese people are already busy planning for their own new year.

As the world has just celebrated the new year, Vietnamese people are busy planning for their own new year, the Tet holiday -  the most important and popular holiday in Vietnam. If you’re going on a Vietnam trip during this occasion, you will have the chance to celebrate not one, but two distinct New Year events in a singular year. So get ready to enjoy Tet like a true local, with our helpful list of dos and don’ts guaranteed to give you comprehensive information about this significant festival.

Read more articles to find out how Tet is celebrated in Vietnam with Exotic Voyages through our series of posts about the Vietnam Tet Holiday.

1. The DOs

- Give People Good Wishes

Say “Chuc mung nam moi!” (Chook Mwoong Num Moy) and wish people all the best for a happy new year. Taking place annually, Tet is the most expected time of the year when people unite with their loved ones and finally have time to relax and enjoy the holiday atmosphere after a whole year of hard work.

On this special occasion, family members usually gather around, enjoy cozy meals, talk about what they have achieved the last year and give their New Year's wishes to one another. However, during your stay in Vietnam, there are people who still work during the Tet holidays. Thus, make sure to say thanks and wish them a happy new year for their dedication (even though they usually get a bonus Tet salary).

- Give The Elder And Children Lucky Money

Alongside the good wishes is the lucky money, known as Li xi (pronounced Lee-see). Commonly, this custom is about giving money in red envelopes to the young and old of the family as a practice of the philosophy of “give and take”.

Nonetheless, for foreign travelers, what possibly can this information do? The answer is quite simple. If you travel with kids, you can “lee-see” them with a small amount of money. If you say “Happy New Year” with a smile on your face, surely the locals will understand and feel delighted. You can also “lee-see” other people with any currency. Lucky money doesn’t have to be in Vietnam dong and doesn’t necessarily have to be given in red envelopes; it’s the thought (and amount) that counts.

- Dress in Bright-colored Clothes

During Tet, Vietnamese people often buy new clothes to mark a fresh beginning to the year. From trendy fashionable clothes to the “old but gold” traditional pieces such as Ao dai. All Tet outfits are usually very eye-catching and colorful.

Originally, dressing in bright-colored clothes, especially red and yellow is believed to bring the wearer new happy changes, as well as fortune and prosperity.

- Prepare Tet’s Signature Dishes

It can’t be Tet without the traditional Tet food. These traditional dishes are the soul of the holiday. A full big tray of a typical Tet meal includes hearty dishes with plates and bowls. Each dish is distinct from the others, yet they are not contrasting but elevate and complement one another. Usually, there is at least 7 popular Tet food that every girl is taught by their mothers and grandmothers since they are young. 

- Collecting Lucky Letters

During Tet holidays, calligraphy festivals - the festivities that are imbued with national identity, take place mostly in Hanoi and Saigon. Here, scholars are called “Ong Do” (pronounced Ohng Doh), dressed in traditional clothes. They decorate their booths, write auspicious Han Nom (Ancient Vietnamese language) letters and give them as blessings. There is no fixed price for these letters.  Ask Ong Do what you want for the new year, they will help to choose the right words.  There usually is a fixed price for each word, but pay whatever extra amount you feel is right for their work. 

Adventurous travelers can head to the ground of The Temple of Literature in old Hanoi or the Youth Cultural House in Saigon to see this artistry and maybe have a letter of your own.

- Buy Salt For A Lucky Year

“Buying salt at the beginning of the year, buying quicklime at the end of the year”, this proverb indicates the common practices of the Vietnamese people during the Tet holiday. It means by the end of each year, the locals will buy quicklime and have their houses whitewashed to block all the negative energies. Likewise, buying tiny salt bags on the first day of the year will bring you good fortune as salt is believed to be a symbol of strong and intimate relationships. Vietnamese people buy salt with a wish for an upcoming year filled with love, companionship, and family bonds.

2. The DON’Ts

- Stay Away from Conflicts

The first three days of the Lunar New Year are very important. People believe that whatever happens on these days will likely recur throughout the year. As such, Vietnamese people always try to retain harmony and spread positive energy toward others. There is no room for conflicts, arguments, and especially hatred. Instead, it’s the perfect time of the year for people to set aside their contempt to forgive and cherish.

- Be Careful. Break Means Bad Luck

Sometimes we’re clumsy, we break things unintentionally. Nevertheless, during Tet, breaking objects in the house means breakups, disruptions, and bad luck. Hence, pay some extra attention when it comes to fragile items because they can potentially bring negative energy to you and the landlord. But also don’t be too superstitious.

- Cursing is Definitely No

"M*th**f..." Wait, are you about to curse? According to Vietnamese culture, what you say during Tet will influence you less or more throughout the year. A little bit of the Law of Attraction, isn’t it? But it’s actually very logical.

Vietnamese people always avoid negative energy during Tet. The truth is, everyone is so happy and delighted on this day that they even forgive things that often drive them crazy on normal days. Still, if you accidentally get into a bad situation, try to stay positive and work things out instead of cursing and losing your temper.

- What An Unlucky Banana!

As delicious as they are, some foods are abstained on special occasions due to some specific characteristics, namely bananas (slippery), squids (their ink symbolizes dirt and bad luck), shrimp (move backward), etc. In addition, leftovers are also very avoided during the Tet holidays. 

- Showering on The First Day of The New Year

To many countries in Asia, the head is seen as the holiest part of the human body. In Vietnam, people avoid taking a shower or washing their heads on Tet to retain knowledge and blessings from the previous year. Actually, they would shower carefully the previous evening to keep themselves fresh throughout the first day of the year.

- Sweeping The House on Tet

Vietnamese people believe that house gods hide in their houses so if you sweep your house during the Tet holiday, you will sweep away the gods. That also means you sweep away the lucks of the new year.

Like the saying: “When in Rome, Do as the Romans do!”. If you have a chance to visit Vietnam during Tet, we hope that our posts are helpful. Above all, we also hope that you’ll have a joyous and unforgettable trip with your loved ones, and by the way: “Chuc mung nam moi!”.

Previous post: Vietnam Tet Holiday (Part 3): New Year Traditions and Customs

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