Tet Holiday in Vietnam - Story of a Vietnamese people

Tet Holiday or Tết Nguyên Đán is the Lunar New Year in Vietnam. It is also the biggest celebration of Vietnamese people for a year. Here is one of our guides who tells you about his main activities and impressions of his Tet Holiday in 2016.

Tet Holiday in Vietnam - When? With the Chinese people?

Many people believe that the Tet Holiday in Vietnam is organized at the same time with the Chinese people.

In fact, the Chinese Spring Festival is based on the lunar calendar. While the Tet Holiday in Vietnam is based on the lunar and solar calendar. The Vietnamese people rely on the moon to count the number of days per month: 29.25 days per month and on the sun to determine the seasons: spring equinox, winter solstice...As a lunar month has only 29, 25 days, so every lunar year, there are 10.2 days less compared to the solar calendar. Suddenly, every three solar years, there is an additional month or 30.6 days. It is for this reason that the Tet Holiday in Vietnam is not necessarily in the same date with the Chinese New Year.

Tet Holiday in Vietnam

Vietnam is a country inhabited by several peoples: Kinh (Viet), Laos, Thai, Tay, Hmong, Dao... In many cases, traditionally, each people has a different calendar. For example, the Hmong people celebrate their New Year a month before the Vietnamese Tet Holiday: in November - December lunar or in January of the solar calendar. The Laotians organize their New Year in the solar month of April...But, now, most people follow the Kinh (Viet) to celebrate Tet Holiday but keep their own customs and practices during these most sacred days of the year.

The Vietnamese Tet Holiday is often at the end of January and mid-February in the solar calendar. The whole of this holiday lasts about 7 to 8 days of the old year and 7 days of the new year, from December 23 to January 7 in the lunar calendar.

Each year, the Tet Holiday is organized throughout Vietnam and other countries inhabited by the Vietnamese community: United States, France, Germany...The Tet is the most important family reunion, the moment of the meeting, the cult of ancestors... and as usual, according to different peoples, there are often taboos during the Tet Holiday...

My most important activities, impressions...of Tet Holiday in 2016:

The Tet Holiday, for me or for most Vietnamese people, is the most sacred moment of the year. I live in Hanoi or 300 km from my native village where my large paternal and maternal family lives: My grandmother, my parents, uncles, aunts, relatives... For the Vietnamese people, the notion '' quê hương '' meaning the ‘’native village’’ has a sense that is sacred, close and extraordinary. This is the place where we '’cut the placenta, buried the navel'’. The native village is the place associated with memories of childhood, even of youth. The native village is the place where the ancestor rests peacefully...It is difficult to explain all the meanings of this notion to other peoples. A Vietnamese poet said:

'' ... The native village is the way to go to school

When I come home, I am covered by yellow butterflies.

The birthplace is the blue kite

That I release on the rice fields during all my childhood.

The native village is a small boat

Which is dreamy on the river.

The native village is the bamboo bridge

On which, my mother returns with the hat bowing.

Is the scent of pastoral herbs

Which flies away in my nap of summer.

The native village is warm arms

In the middle of which I sleep during the night rains.

The native village is the flowers of the areca tree fallen into the garden

When the moon is full ... ''

Tet Holiday in Vietnam

So, since 1994, I left my little native village located at the seaside, in the center of Vietnam or Annam of the Indochinese era under the French colonization, the Tet Holiday is the longest time for me to find with my big family, my neighbors, my childhood friends...The Tet Holiday is the main moment where I burn incense sticks to talk with my ancestors in front of their altar at my parents' house as if they were in front of me... Even at 40 years old, after the vicissitudes of life, several days before returning to the native village, I spent sleepless nights waiting impatiently. I counted the hour by the hour, day by day, as if when I was a child waiting for my mother's return from the market with a dried sesame cake in her hand...The Tet Holiday in me is a strangely sacred and noble concept.

This year, Tet Holiday in 2016 was spent in my big family in the native village between 5 and 11 February 2016 according to the solar calendar. Suddenly, 2 months in advance or in the month of solar November, I started to book train tickets for my little family: My wife, me, my daughter of 12 years old and my son of 4 years old. The Tet Holiday is also the moment of the biggest '' migration '' in the country. Millions of people move. So, despite 2 months in advance, but I could not have the berths but only the 3 seats on the wooden benches for 6:30 of the train journey between Hanoi and Vinh station located 10 km from my home village…

14h of February 6 (28 of lunar December), after several days of waiting and preparation, I said goodbye to the Buddha before taking the train without comfort but with happiness, even with ardor like all passengers in the same car. At 9 pm, I was at my parents' house where my brother's family had just returned too. The entrance to the village was covered by small decorative flags, red lanterns, flashing multi colors...for the welcome to the Tet Holiday. It was difficult to prevent emotions!

February 7th (Lunar December 29th), I took my family to Vinh City for the '' end-of-year meal '' at my uncle's home (my father's big brother) where there was his family, my aunts , my cousins...That day, I went to the flower market to buy a Kumquat tree and other flowers to decorate my parents' house in the village…

Tet Holiday

The afternoon was reserved to prepare well the house. My mother, my wife, my sister-in-law...started preparing a hearty dinner to invite the ancestors and for the big family. Around 16h, I went to the family cemetery with my daughter to invite the ancestor to come back to the family to celebrate the Tet Holiday with us by burning the incense...

After having offered the meal to the ancestors, the dinner was spent in the perfect union of my family. My sister's family has come too. A week in advance of Tet, my parents prepared a lot of food. They had shared a pig with our neighbor this time...

Since then, the incense must be burned without stopping on the altar of the ancestors. We believe that their soul lives permanently during the three days of the feast which is the reunion of the living but also of the dead people. They are there to witness the feeling, to share happiness and sadness with their descendants...The altar of my ancestors was well decorated, prepared by my father. We drank tea, sake, beer...watching TV, chatting...

At 23:45, the first sounds of the fireworks announced the arrival of the New Year. In reality, the firecracker and the fireworks were banned completely to the people (State presides the official spectacle of the fireworks) after the Tet Holiday of 1994 because of accidents, fires...However, until now, we cannot give up the firecracker and the fireworks to announce the New Year. We produce them ourselves or buy them thanks to the illegal traffickers even several months before the feast of Tet, with the price very expensive. My friend, a policeman, said to me, '' We close our eyes in this day. We cannot prevent joy to the people. It's their right. Personally, we agree with the people because it's Tet Holiday... ''.

In incessant noises, the glow of multi-colored fireworks, firecrackers...but my soul was strangely peaceful. The stress, the sadness, the concerns...of life have disappeared to cede place to tranquility, peace...During this moment of the cross between the Universe and Human being, I could even hear the wind of spring, young shoots pushing...I shook my daughter's hand. I could not stop my tears by thinking of other Tet Holiday with my ancestors, especially with my paternal grandparents in total misery, the atmosphere of the war with the Chinese army in the north and with the Khmer Rouge in the south of the country. We had only dreamed of rice to eat to forget our hunger, without anything else, without knowing other things. It was the starving Tet Holidays in suffering that still obsess me until that day. No! The Tet is already different. I whispered to myself that the Tet Holiday of my past should be different from that of my children, all Vietnamese people in the country or even in this world…

Tet Holiday

January 1 in lunar calendar (February 8, 2016), the most important thing to do was to visit my maternal grandmother of 92 years old who lives with the family of my little uncle (my mother's little brother) in the my mother's home village where I met the two families of my maternal aunts (A big sister and a little sister of my mother). We took the opportunity to talk, eat together... In the afternoon, I visited my most revered teacher before meeting my neighbors in the native village...

January 2 Lunar (February 9, 2016), I visited some friends of my childhood with my little family. According to tradition, when meeting during the Tet Holiday, we must drink at least a cup of sake (rice alcohol) at a family or a beer by nibbling a few things: candy, fruit...This is the taboo to refuse invitations from the heart. If we refuse them, this can be considered as the bad omen for the host family, even as indifference, arrogance ... I met the mayor of the town who is my old friend before to have a hearty lunch at my grand aunt's family (my father's big sister). In the afternoon, I had to stay at home to welcome my friends, those of my parents...In the evening, my neighbors in Hanoi came to my home with their families. The party continued!!! It was hard not to be drunk! It's forgivable because it was Tet Holiday!

January 3 Lunar (Lunar February 10), my little family, my brother's (him, his wife and their two children) came to my grand uncle's (my father's big brother). It was for the meal to say goodbye to the ancestors. If the 7th of February (29th of December lunar) was reserved for the invitation ceremony of the ancestors to return to the family for the Tet Holiday, 3 days later, 10th February, it was ceremony to say goodbye to the ancestors who return to their world. There was still a hearty meal to finish!

That evening, the family of my little maternal uncle came to my family for the feast to say goodbye to my ancestors. After having recovered the meal offered to the ancestors, the Tet Holiday ended officially in the family. We could turn off the light, stop burning the incense on the altar of the ancestors for the moment...It was hard not to be drunk!

January 4 lunar (February 11), I attended the meeting at the town hall which invited villagers living far from the native village. The young people participated in a football match in front of the town hall afterwards. In the afternoon, I took my family to relax at the beach (a small '' rest '') before taking the night train at 9 pm to be at the Hanoi station at 4am in the morning of the February 12. Upon arrival in Hanoi, I was completely tired. But it was not over yet: There was a banquet with the neighbors because this was our Tet Holiday!

These were just some of my activities during the 2016 Tet Holiday. Frankly, in reality, I could not see all the people I wanted to meet. It's always difficult to be perfect. I still have friends, relatives, teachers...to see, to talk with. But the time did not allow me to do everything for a Tet Holiday... I thought of them in the continual noise of the night train...

Some '' problems '' of Tet Holiday:

Recently, there are intellectuals who believe that the Tet Holiday in Vietnam based on the lunar solo calendar is already archaic. The Tet Holiday is a economic waste…. They argue that when all the other countries are doing business, the trade...the Vietnamese people have party, have fun...The Tet Holiday is no longer suitable in the modern world of full integration with each other ... They want to assimilate the traditional Tet Holiday with the New Year of the solar calendar like everyone else…But public opinion does not agree. Because the Tet Holiday is not just a party but keeps countless spiritual and sentimental values...

The Tet Holiday is the moment of the biggest migration in the country. It is also the moment of the reunion, the release after a year of hard work... So, with the consumption of alcoholic drinks, tiredness after too many trips, there is an increase in accidents, even fatal, disputes, fights ... among young people ... Superstitious activities have the chance to develop. There is waste in the organization of the holidays. But this is not the fault of the Tet. It's the fault of human beings. I ask myself, if we '' assimilate '' Lunar Tet Holiday to Solar New Year, will these problems end? Or the millennial values, the nuances ... that are created will end? Furthermore did you see some things perfect? No, everything is relative. I think of a phrase that I read: Seek your part in the disorder of which you complain.

Only its people have the right to abandon the Tet Holiday!

My problems:

I live far from the native village. The Tet Holiday was created in villages by the civilization of agriculture. It is not interesting at all to have this party in town, especially in '’modern'’ cities.

The intensive movement can tire, stress...my children, even my wife. The meeting, the reunions with friends from childhood, school ... are also the meal that could cause fatigue! The first days of work after Tet are never easy! Until now, while writing these words, the days spent in the village still dance in my head. In dream, I told myself there were 3 days ago, 4 days ago, it was ... But no, anyway, the Tet Holiday is sacred for me in every sense of the word. Modern people may believe the Tet party is wasted but I believe that this holiday cannot be bought in money. This is a concept that cannot be defined in vocabulary or even in numbers... In this flat world due to the strong globalization, I think we have to keep our own things of which there is the Tet Holiday.

Tet Holiday in Vietnam

My Tet Holiday in Hanoi:

After a night train, I was in Hanoi on January 5th in lunar calendar (February 12th in solar calendar). If my Tet Holiday was spent in the native village rather with my large paternal and maternal family, my villagers, my childhood friends...this time, in Hanoi, I continued to do it with my neighbors, my friends and especially with communal activities in the neighborhood where I live.

I live in a neighborhood about 14 km from the center of Hanoi where Le Loi King returned the sword to the sacred turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake after the victory over the Chinese army in 1428. The temple in my home village, newly upgraded '' neighborhood '' during urbanization, venerates the king of Ly Bi who founded the kingdom of Van Xuan (544 - 602 AD) after the victory over Chinese army. Van Xuan is one of the most ancient names of Vietnam…

Every year, on the 10th, 11th and12th of Lunar January, after the Tet Holiday, the inhabitants of my quarter organize celebration in honor of the King of Ly Bi around his millennial temple classified as the National Historical Vestige. Suddenly, the rather calm quarter becomes particularly animated with several thousands of people who come there for the ceremonies, to have fun in a particularly happy atmosphere. During these three days, there were many activities such as: processions, dragon dances, popular games, folk shows...

With the friends, the neighbors...we shared the meals together with each other. May be during Tet, community life shows its strongest moment. There are people who do not get along on ordinary days but they can spend nice moments during the Tet Holiday to forget at least some precarious misunderstandings...

After several meetings, the banquets, the movement...I finished '' officially '' my Tet Holiday on January 13 in lunar calendar or February 20 in solar calendar. After spending a quiet weekend, I started my work with echoes, feelings...in the head!

That's what a basic Vietnamese people does during his Tet Holiday!