Vietnam Tet Holiday (Part 2): The Preparations

10 Jan, 2023 | Secrets Untold

As Tet coming close, Vietnamese people working in big cities have been starting to book tickets to return to their homeland to prepare for Tet.

As the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or Tet, comes closer and closer, Vietnamese people working in big cities have started to book tickets to return to their home town. Stores are packed with candied fruits and gift baskets, and on the streets, motorbikes and small lorries’ cargo is filled to the brim with traditional flowers for Tet.

In our previous post, we introduced a list of the 7 most popular foods during Tet, from the iconic Vietnamese sticky square rice cake (banh chung) to a colorful five-fruit tray which is a must-have for every Vietnamese family. In this post, we will get closer to seeing how people in Vietnam prepare for their grandest festival of the year. Make a plan for your Vietnam trip at this special time of the year to understand more about it. 

Read our other posts about Tet Holiday in Vietnam:

1. The Grand Gathering

After the “Renovation” (“Doi Moi”) in 1986, Vietnam underwent numerous significant changes. And one of these changes was people from the countryside flocking to Hanoi, Danang, or Ho Chi Minh City to make a living in a big city. However, they do not forget their roots, their family, and their home town where they were born and raised amidst the tranquil village’s lake, bamboo trees, and rice paddies, along the bumpy and muddy village’s path. And after a year of hard work, Tet is the time to return to the place that nourished them.
Kids are also brought to visit their parents’ home town. Here, the kids are told the stories of how their dad and/or mom grew up, sometimes by their grandparents. They will then have the chance to meet their friends living in their home town and together, they play the traditional games with fun and joy. Meanwhile, for their parents, the long-lasting homesickness is now replaced with warmth and happiness, when the grand family is gathered around the cozy fire to cook banh chung or banh tet. This is when stories of the past are told, the family bond is strengthened and Tet is made.
That’s what happens in the countryside, but what about in the cities? Because the number of people originating from the outside provinces coming back home is considerable, the streets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City become much less crowded. The usual hustle and bustle is now gone and there are now only few street vendors selling traditional Tet  plants.

2. The Decorations

Decoration of the houses is always an essential part of any New Year in the world. Usually, 4 or 5 days before Tet, all members of the family clean their house, everything from atop the desk, the house floor, the stairs, the kitchen, to even the bottom of the beds.
The altar is also cleaned thoroughly to place offerings that contain foods and flowers afterward. Cleaning has to be done prior to New Year because in Vietnamese beliefs, sweeping the floor in the first days of the year is considered taboo as it also means sweeping good luck away.
After cleaning the house, it’s time to decorate it. First comes the decorating of trees. And while people in the West have pine trees for Christmas, people across Vietnam have more than one choice for a decorating tree. And it largely depends on the region. In the North, the most popular choice is a peach flower (hoa dao), whose blossoms range from pale pink to almost red. A symbol of bravery and vitality, the peach flower is regarded as the core of a house during Tet.
In the South, due to climate differences, ochna integerrima, (hoa mai - photo above) is the most common choice. Representing wealth and love among people, ochna integerrima with its gorgeous yellow flowers helps brighten up the whole living room.
The third popular decorating tree is the kumquat tree (cay quat), which is widely available. Unlike the previous two, kumquat trees are not beautiful because of its flower, but their fruits, which resemble tangerine, instead. A fruitful kumquat tree is considered a good sign of fertility, wealth, and luck. After the New Year, people even pick down some fruits for culinary purposes or even to suck on the fruit skin for a while to cure bad cough.
As aforementioned, the altar is very important when decorating houses. After being emptied and cleaned well, people will place candied fruits, and a five-fruit tray along with flowers on both sides in order to pay homage to their ancestors. And the altar cannot lack the presence of traditional incense. For many, the aroma of incense evokes the feeling of Tet. It is also believed that these slowly burning sticks of incense are what connect living people to the spiritual world.

3. The Tet’s Eve

When everyone within the family has been home and decorations are set and done, people across Vietnam are now ready for Tet’s Eve, with importance equivalent to New Year’s Eve in the West. Family members gather together at the last dinner of the year (called tat nien meal). They cook traditional food to worship their ancestors. When the incense is burned out, food offerings are taken down from the altar after asking for permission from ancestors. This is often done by the most prominent person in the family, usually the father.
During tat nien meal, family members recall what everyone has done in the past year, share stories, and wish Happy New Year (Chuc mung nam moi) while giving a toast. Altogether, they look forward to a prosperous year ahead with good luck and health for everyone.
In the last decade or so, there’s also a part that is indispensable in any Tet’s Eve. And that is the annual national TV show called Tao Quan or the “Kitchen God”. This show is an amusing summary of all major national events that happens in the last year, starred by some of the most famous Vietnamese comedians. This show often keeps tens of millions of audience from around Vietnam sticking together in front of the TV after the tat nien meal until midnight when they have another worshiper to God, mostly taken outdoors. 
In Vietnam, fireworks are extremely popular as the means of grand celebration for giao thua. This means more and more cities and towns are performing fireworks, not just major cities. And even in these big urban areas, these spectacular displays are placed in an increasing number of new spots, often lakes. However, the most famous spots are Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and the Bitexco Financial Tower in Saigon, one of the tallest skyscrapers in Vietnam.
At this time, the streets are very crowded with children with their parents, friends, couples, older people, or even some foreigners wishing to submerge themselves in the most wonderful and magical time of the year of the country during their Vietnam trip.

Read more about Tet Holiday in Vietnam:

Come to Vietnam and enjoy an authentic Tet 

To plan out your dream trip to Vietnam this winter/spring, click here. 


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