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

Throughout Vietnam, Tet, the Lunar New Year, is just around the corner. All the preparations are ready for the grandest national festival of the year. In this third and final part of Vietnam Tet Holiday, we will take a look at traditional customs, activities as well as taboos after the first day of the year in Vietnam.

Xong dat - First visit of the year

To the Vietnamese people, the first person of the year to enter a house’s threshold is of great importance to the visited family. This visit is called “xong dat”. In Vietnamese beliefs, a person of good morality, personality and success will bring good luck for the host family thus the house owner often carefully chooses this person. It is also a matter of the year of birth of the visiting person in relation to 12 Zodiac animals. For example, provided that the head of house was born on the year of buffalo, the visiting person should be born on the year of snake, hen or mouse so that good luck can be generated throughout the year. However, in some families, the owner will leave the house before midnight then return right after the clock strikes midnight just to make sure that there will be no unexpected and unwanted person who might bring bad luck. This certainly shows how vitalxong dat is to Vietnamese families on the first day of Tet.

Lucky red envelope

If you have the chance to stay in Vietnam and walk along the streets during Tet, you will not help encountering children holding a red envelope with a smile on their faces. This iconic envelope is actually an indispensable part of the Lunar New Year not just in Vietnam but also in China and South Korea. These envelopes are often enclosed with monetary gift and given to children as a token of best wishes and good luck. That’s why the lucky red envelopes are also known as lucky money. In Vietnam, it is called “li xi”. In recent time, although quite a few traditional customs of Tet in Vietnam has been slowly diminishing, the act of giving li xi is still well-preserved and carries the hope of Vietnamese people that the future generations will be blessed with intellect, good luck and health.

li xi

Blessings and wishes

The first three days of Tet are the time for people to visit their families, friends, colleagues and educators. During these visits, blessings and wishes for the New Year are offered. These wishes often varied upon the relationship of two people. Here are 8 common ones:

- Chuc mung nam moi: Happy New Year

- Nam moi doi dao suc khoe: A New Year of plenty of health

- Nam moi tan tai tan loc: A New Year of plenty of wealth

- An khang thinh vuong: Security, good health and prosperity

- Van su nhu y: May everything happens as you wish

- Hay an chong lon: Eat more, grow fast. This blessing is offered to children

- Song lau tram tuoi: Live long for one hundred years. This is offered to the elderly

- Tien vao nhu nuoc song Da, tien ra nho giot nhu ca phe phin. Money comes in like the flow of Da River, money comes out like coffee dripping

Temple-visiting, pilgrimage

On the first morning of the year, most temples and pagodas throughout Vietnam are often very crowded as many people gather here to pray for all good things for the New Year or simply just to find tranquility. This is another tradition that doesn’t show any signs of disappearing in the Vietnamese way of celebrating Tet. In the following days, it’s time for spring travels or du xuan. Plenty of people from all ages and various areas flock to major pilgrimage destinations. In Hanoi, many young people and families meander along the pavement of the Temple of Literature to receive calligraphy pictures. On the red background, there will be a big Sino-Vietnamese character representing all kinds of good things, from health, prosperity, morality, determination to luck, written by some old calligraphist known as “ong do”. On a broader scale, particularly Northern Vietnam, the three most popular stops for spring travels as well as pilgrimage and  are Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh Province, the biggest religious complex in Vietnam, Yen Tu Pagoda near Halong Bay and Perfume Pagoda on the southern outskirt of Hanoi. These spring festivals takes place every year and can last for as long as three months, during which they attract thousands of pilgrims from around Northern Vietnam.

Huong-pagoda

Way to Perfume Pagoda - source: hanoimoi.com

Bai-Dinh-pagoda

Spring festival at Bai Dinh Pagoda

Yen-Tu-Pagoda

Pilgrimage at Yen Tu Pagoda

Taboos

- Although Tet is a time for mellowness, merriment and forgiving, it is very important to avoid some taboos during the beginning of the year:

- Entering someone’s threshold without prior invitation or approval from the house owner as this may cause unwanted xong dat as said before

- Sweeping the house in the first few days of the year as this is taken as sweeping luck away

- Borrowing things, loaning money or asking for debt repay

- Taking away something related to fire or water from somebody’s house. In traditional beliefs, fire represents family’s warmth whilst water symbolizes the incoming flow of money, just like in the last blessing

- Cursing or saying unfortunate words like death, poverty or diseases

So that concludes the final part of our articles about Tet. We hope you enjoy reading it just like we enjoy Tet. Thank you for being here and Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

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