Everything to know about: Vietnamese Lunar New Year’s Traditions

IndochinaGo 04/10/2022

Written by Tigran-Lucian Mandalian


Insight of this post:

  • The preparation time before celebrating Tet Festival.
  • How to celebrate Tet Festival.

Tet (Tet Nguyen Dan – Festival of the First Morning of the First Day) is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. Tet Festival follows the lunar cycle and is celebrated once every year, usually at the end of January or beginning of February. Public celebrations can last up to 7 days.

                                                                     The Apricot Flowers

The preparation time before celebrating Tet Festival

This festival involves several family-centered ceremonies and rituals.  During the week before Tet, many families visit the graves of their parents and grandparents. Fresh earth is placed on top, weeds removed from around it and incense is burnt to invoke the souls of the dead to return and visit the family home. It named “Ngay Tao Mo”.

The week before New Year’s Eve is a period of Tat Nien which is a celebration of the last event of a period (like the last class of school, the last day in the office, even the last bath, all with parties and great ceremonies

A farewell and thank you dinner given to the Kitchen God (Ong Tao) on the 23rd day of the 12th month is another custom held by the Vietnamese as a preparation for the coming of the New Year. This god returns to Heaven to report to the Jade Emperor about the year’s activities of the household.

During the week before New Year’s Eve, some families set up a Tet tree (Cay neu) – an arrangement that consists of a bamboo pole stripped of most of its leaves except for a few at the top. The Tet tree can hold some talismans that clang in the breeze to attract good spirits and repel the evil ones. Nowadays, this tree is more common in the countryside than in the cities. After the seventh day of Tet, it is removed during a ceremony.

Houses are cleaned and adorned with colorful decorations. Those who stay at home say prayers for their ancestors, while in the parks there are great fireworks shows. Throughout the country, the troubles of the previous year are forgotten.

Throughout the country, flowers create great splashes of color: in southern Vietnam, the bright golden yellow branches of the Mai apricot are seen everywhere, while in the northern part, the soft rose-colored Dao peach flowers decorate homes and offices.

Miniature kumquat bushes, pruned to display ripe deep orange fruits, are carefully selected and prominently displayed. Besides good luck and wealth, the fruits represent the grandparents, the flowers represent parents, the buds represent children and the light green leaves represent grandchildren. Thus, the tree symbolizes more generations.

Preparation for Tet and its celebration is not confined to homes but, as a sociologist (Masequesmay G.) observes, extends over businesses and shops: “On New Year’s Eve, people were busily cleaning up and decorating their stores for the next day. Many people were sweeping the front of their stores because it was considered bad luck to clean up on New Year’s Day. One may accidentally sweep away prosperity that was going to come in. Besides, one would want to have a clean house or store to welcome in the good spirits. Groups of children belonging to Buddhist Youth groups were also going around doing the lion dances, bringing good omens to the shops, and in turn they received luck money from the storekeeper.”

How to celebrate Tet Festival


                  Local people singing a song to celebration the new year at Ho Chi Minh city Hall


In Vietnam, the New Year’s Eve (Giao Thua) when families are excitedly waiting for the midnight, it’s a moment of renewal.

  • The Giao Thua ritual occurs at midnight on the last day of the year, every Vietnamese family whispering prayer, while bells ring and drums beat in temples. The old year gives over its mandate to the New Year. The words Giao Thua (Giao – to give, Thua – to receive) mean a passing on or a receiving and handing down of life, and the recognition of that gift by the present generation. This ritual marks the transition time from one year to another.
  • Every Tet eve, the Vietnamese president, standing in front of a large bust of Ho Chi Minh on a table draped with the national flag, flowers and sometimes an incense burner, addresses the nation.
  • Gia Tien (family ancestor) ritual or calling of the ancestors, prayers are addressed to the spirits of the deceased relatives to visit the family for a few days. After this, money and other paper gifts are burnt in the courtyard as an offer to the dead.
  • In the bigger cities, banging of cans, firecrackers and human yelling became a custom to mark the arrival of the New Year.
  • Following a Buddhist tradition, people will break off branches and twigs that contain newly sprouted leaves (“fortune bearing buds”) to bring a sense of freshness and vitality into their home.
  • During Tet, family ancestors are worshiped, certain important historical events associated with national heroes (like Hung Kings – national ancestors and legendary founders of the Vietnamese nation, Trung sisters – who led a rebellion against Chinese rule 2000 years ago, and Tran Hung Dao – the brilliant military tactician who repelled the Mongol invasions in the 13th century) are commemorated. Incense, rice cakes, a five fruit platter (Mam Ngu Qua) and flower offerings are made, but also traditional folk games and dances are performed.


        Mâm Ngũ Quả – The Five Fruits Flatter 

  • In the larger cities, local authorities organize welcoming events for overseas Vietnamese who are visiting the homeland.
  • First Morning is spent with the family in the husband’s house. Close family members get together and celebrate with the husband’s parents. The family displays offerings (food, liquor, cigarettes, betel, flowers, paper gold and silver) for the ancestors on the altar table. The names of the deceased of the family up to the fifth generation are whispered as they are invited to participate in the feast. After the ceremony, all the family members sit down and enjoy the meal (steamed chicken, bamboo shoot soup, banh chung, fruits).
  • The 2nd day of Tet is reserved for visiting the wife’s family and close friends. Most are out on the streets wearing new clothes.
  • On the 3rd day of Tet, many will visit their former teachers, bosses or a physician who cured them. In the evening, the departure of the ancestors is marked by burning votive objects (gold or silver) for the spirits to take with them on their journey back to Heaven.
  • On the 4th day, many private businesses reopen. Formerly, scholars initiated their new brushes and paper with a small ceremony while wearing new clothes. In the countryside, people perform rituals to revive the land out of its winter’s rest. The Rites of Dong Tho activate the soil to bring it alive from its sacred rest.
  • The 15th day of Tet (Ram Thang Gieng), the first full moon – the most auspicious day of the Buddhist year, is marked by ceremonies in Buddhist temples. Many people go to pagodas to pray and, after that, they receive blessed offerings from the temple keeper and return home peacefully.

Thanks for your interest in this article.



Bellows, K. (2008). Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations. National Geographic Books.

Masequesmay, G. (1991). Little Saigon: An Exploratory Study of an Ethnic Community. Thesis, Pomona College, Department of Sociology, Claremont, CA.

McAllister, P. (2013). Religion, the state, and the Vietnamese lunar new year (Respond to this article at http://www. therai. org. uk/at/debate). Anthropology today29(2), 18-22.

Mazumdar, S., Mazumdar, S., Docuyanan, F., & McLaughlin, C. M. (2000). Creating a sense of place: the Vietnamese-Americans and Little Saigon. Journal of environmental psychology20(4), 319-333.


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