Happy New Year, friends!
My mom is Chinese-Vietnamese, and the Lunar New Year, or Tết Nguyên Đán (Tết for short), has always been a bigger deal in our house compared to January 1st.
I thought I’d share with you a quick overview of the Asian holiday celebrated by billions worldwide. Each country and region has its traditions, so I’ll focus on how my family celebrates here in America.
Tết Nguyên Đán or Vietnamese Lunar New Year
The Vietnamese Lunar New Year is similar to the more well-known Chinese New Year.Tết is divided up into three parts, Tất Niên or leading up to the New Year,Giao Thừa, or New Year’s Eve, andTân Niên, or the New Year.
Tất Niên – Leading Up to the New Year
This year, the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar falls on January 22, 2023, on the Gregorian calendar.
According to the Vietnamese Zodiac, it is the year of the Rabbit. There are two differences between the Vietnamese and Chinese Zodiacs. Instead of the ox, the Vietnamese have the buffalo, which is the primary work animal on farms, and instead of the rabbit, the Vietnamese have the cat (mèo), which sounds a lot like rabbit (mǎo tù) in Chinese.
Traditionally, in the first two weeks leading up to the celebration, you prepare your home by deep cleaning, shopping, and decorating to welcome the new year and the coming of spring.
In Vietnam, they consider Tết the first day of spring, and you’ll often hear people refer to it as the spring festival or Hội xuân. <– 👀 Look, my name! I always found Tết exciting because it was the only time I would see my name everywhere when we visited Little Saigon.
Decorating the home includes incorporating the lucky colors of red and yellow, fresh flower arrangements and potted chrysanthemums, displaying a tray of five different types of fruit, purchasing a tray of Mứt (candied fruits, dried seeds, nuts), and if possible, buying aHoàng Mai (yellow Mai flower) branch or tree.
Hoàng Mai or Ochna integerrima is an important element of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year as it represents a brave girl that fought off a monster to protect her village in a well-known fairytale. After her death, the gods transformed her into a flowering tree that blooms yellow like her shirt during springtime.
On the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month (January 14, 2023),Tết Ông Táo, or Kitchen God Day, is celebrated. This is a tradition where families give offerings toÔng Táo at their kitchen stove in hopes that he will send good word about the family to the Jade Emperor, King of Heaven.
Leading up to New Year’s Eve, a traditional feast is prepared that includes Bánh Tét (my mom best describes these as a Vietnamese tamal), Thịt Kho (braised pork belly and egg), a variety of homemade pickles to accompany the pork belly (mustard green, daikon, carrots, shallots, and bean sprouts), Chả Giò (Vietnamese spring rolls), Xôi Gấc (red sticky rice), Canh Khổ Qua (stuffed bitter melon soup), some hot pot (every family has their favorite version and we make a pork and seafood hot pot), and Mì Xào (stir-fried egg noodles).
Giao Thừa – New Year’s Eve
Once the food is finished being prepared, it is offered to the ancestors at the family altar, accompanied by prayer and the burning of incense. My mom usually does this on New Year’s Eve, and the living feast upon the food once the incense is done burning.
Firecrackers are lit on the streets to scare off the evil spirits and bring good luck into the new year, and kids play Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd-Crab-Shrimp-Fish), a gambling game involving three dice with pictures of the animals and gourd on the gameboard. The goal is for one or more of the dice to correspond with your bet. The game is similar to the Chinese Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab).
Tân Niên – The New Year
Traditionally, the first day of the new year is reserved for the family. In the morning, we send the kids outside to ring the bell. It’s believed that the first person to come to your home should be of a pure heart. The children receive Lì Xì (lucky money) in red envelopes from their elders, whom they greet with the customary Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year!)
The second day is reserved for visiting extended family, and the third to fifth days of the New Year are for visiting friends, mentors, and teachers.
During the first three days of the New Year celebration, we wear new clothes, avoid cleaning our house (which we never do, clean freaks here!), and eat the massive amounts of food we cooked leading up to the holiday.
The official end of the New Year celebration culminates with Tết Nguyen Tiêu (Lantern Festival). It is the 15th day of the first lunar month of the New Year and the first full moon of the month. We honor the day by visiting the temple and offering prayers for a good year, lighting lanterns, and eating vegetarian food for purification.
Vietnamese Lunar New Year Resources
- What is Tet?
- Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year
- Inside the Vietnamese home during Tet
- How to Say Happy New Year in Vietnamese
- Mai flower
- Banh Tet
- Thit Kho
Tet, A Lesson Plan for Grades 4-6
Tết Nguyên Đán is a time when families come together to celebrate the new year and honor their ancestors. It’s a time of happiness, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
I hope you have the opportunity to experience this joyous holiday with your loved ones. If you’re curious about how you can celebrate the holiday, be sure to check out some of the links above.
Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!
Xuan Klevecka is a Southern California-based homeschool mom, wife, and sometimes purveyor of vintage goods. She’s an Enneagram 5w4, a lover of good food, and a former middle school history teacher. You’ll either find her looking at road maps and daydreaming about her family’s next epic adventure or perusing recipes and cooking up a feast for the brood.