Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners

Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners
// Additional survival tricks

by tonytran2015 (Melbourne, Australia).

#Lunar New Year, #Tết Nguyên Đán , #Tết Nguyên Tiêu, #Lunar Calendar, #Festival, #activities, #custom, #survival,

Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners.

To many Western and Vietnamese people, it is hard to tell when East Asian Lunar New Year (Tết Âm Lịch in Vietnamese) will come. To add to the confusion there are also different New Year days for its neighboring East Asian countries like China, Korea, etc… When the Festival comes they are again surprised at the activities or inactivity! This blog helps them understand the festival and know the custom to plan their activities to avoid any inconvenience.

In short description, the traditional New Year Festival (“Tet” in Vietnamese) is a period of long holidays and prolonged shut downs of normal trading. The details are explained in the following.

1. When is a Vietnamese New Year Day?

The first new Lunar month after Winter Solstice is always named the Final Month (“thang Chạp” in Vietnamese; the name may come (?) from the word “tháng LẬP Đông”). The end of that month is the Lunar New Year. Neighboring Asian countries (China, Korea) all use this rule but the New Year day of each country may differ by one day or sometimes one month due to their different time zones.

All months here denote Lunar months unless otherwise specified. Month are name Month 1 to Final Month and there may be 13 months in a Lunar Year with the Leap Month bearing the name of its preceding Month appended with the word “Leap”.

Note that the Final Month may be either a 12th month or a 13th month when the Lunar year is a leap year.

2. What are the Vietnamese New Year Holidays?

Seafaring Vietnamese people finish their fishing activities before the stormy season (month 7 of Lunar Year). Agricultural Vietnamese people in the countryside finish their harvest before Winter Solstice. So the Final month of a Lunar Year is ready to be a time for preparation or enjoyment of New Year Festival.

The Festival holidays may begin in the Final Month and continue through Month 1, 2, 3, 4 (“thang Gieng, thang 2 3, 4” in Vietnamese), If there is any leap month falling between Month 1 and Month 4 then the holidays also extend that month.

The popular quotes in Vietnamese is “Thang Gieng la thang an choi, thang Hai co bac, thang Ba hoi he”. It means First Month is for Enjoying Good times, Month 2 for Enjoying Gambling, Month 3 for Carnivals, Meetings”

Agricultural people have to come back to their work on Lunar Month 4. Since Lunar Month 2 the sea is calm and the fishermen have started their work. They are most busy when the star Arcturus Bootes is shining. Note that Arcturus Bootes is a star of the night on April 25th.

3. What are the activities in Vietnamese New Year Festivals.

a. Foods and drinks are to be stored up to the brims of containers in each household (a sign of prosperity). They are supposed to be adequate for all food and drinks of the household for more than two months. Tet can also be considered a practice run for survival in disasters, for that Vietnam has had many.

The principle of “just in time” does not apply here. Prices are substantially higher in the month long New Year Festival period.

b. Most trading activities are to cease from New Year Eve to the 10th day of First Month.

Everyone has an opportunity to come back for Family Reunion. People also have a practice for survival without trading.

c. People from distant places may have additional holiday time to travel to their home town. Boat travelers may need encompassing full Moons to travel by rivers, canals to their home places.

d. All houses are to be cleaned up and decorated to celebrate the New Year, this activity commence early and does not end until New Year Eve. Houses and monuments are to be decorated with “cay mai” (Ochna integerrima or Ochna) which are made to blossom flowers on the First day of New Year.

e. Food, preserved food and offerings are to be prepared to Festival days. Vietnamese food for New Year includes “bánh chưng”, “banh dầy”, “bánh tét” (loaf that can only be cut by Splitting its banana leaves wrapping). “xôi vò”, “cơm ruou”, “ruou đế”, “ruou nếp”, “ruou nếp than”. “tôm khô” (dried salted prawns), “khô mực”, “cu kieu ngam dam” (picled leeks in vinegar).

f. Permanent Indoor Altars are to be decorated with white or red lilies (“hoa hụê” in Vietnamese). Incense and candles are to be lighted on altars.

g. On the 23rd of Final Month, people have to make Departure Ceremony for Three Inhouse Monitors from Heaven (“Hai Ong Mot Ba Tao” in Vietnamese). The three Inhouse Monitors from Heaven work similarly to real life Resident In-house Monitoring Agents of Ward Police (Ward Police = “Cong An Phuong” of current Socialist Vietnam; a ward is a subdivision of a district which is, in turn, a subdivision of a town or city).

i. Without the Three In-house Monitors from Heaven all activities in the house are now off-the-records!

j. Good-time boys and good-time girls may do non-rightous things without worrying about having bad records made in Heaven. Some people from Northern Vietnam takes this off-the-record time to do go out eating dogs!

k. Between the 24th and the 29th of Final Month a temporary Altar (“Nieu” in Vietnamese) have to be made and placed on top of an upright long pole for the Deceased Ancestors to reside and enjoy New Year celebration with their living descendants.

l. From Sunset to New Year Commencement at midnight, people have to make Welcome Ceremony for Three New In House Monitors from Heaven (“Hai Ong Mot Ba Tao” in Vietnamese). The three new Monitors have been rotated by Heaven from some other household to ensure equality and impartiality.

m. All good and bad deeds from people in the household are from now recorded by new Three Monitors.

o. Incense and candles are to be lighted on the small Altar in the front yard for the Jade Supreme God of Heaven (“Ong Thien” or “Ngoc Hoang Thuong De”). This altar for the Supreme God does NOT have any statue, drawing and no more than the words “Mon Khau Thien Dia” (The doorway to Heaven and Earth”).

p. Incense and candles are to be lighted on the small Altar on Ground Surface for the local Custodian God of the local Land (“Ong Dia”). People from North Vietnam now have the local Custodian God of the local Land sharing his altar with the White Eyebrowed God (“Than Bach Mi”), the Patron God of Prostitutes.

Note that the White Eyebrowed God (“Than Bach Mi”) is totally different from the God of Lucks (“Than Tai”), who rides a horse and wear an Imperial Administrative Official suite with WINGED Head Wear.

q. Midnight comes.

r. New Year Celebration with fire crackers detonation to scare away the bad spirits.

This is just like scaring away robbers and bandits during any change of guards.

s. People make offerings to their ancestors at the indoor permanent altars for ancestors.

t. People go to Pagodas to break and take home any of their blossoming branches of “mai” (“Hai loc”).

u. First day of New Year for Family reunion. Note that married women are considered family member of their husbands and not of their maiden family.

v. Second day of New Year is for Married Women to come back and reunite to their maiden families WITH their husbands and children.

w. Third day of New Year is for visit to former Teachers and people who brought/made working people to their current status.

x. Fourth day of New Year: People can enjoy their own festival activities.

y. Tenth day of New Year: The temporary Altar (“Nieu” in Vietnamese) have to be dismantled and Deceased Ancestors are sent back to their Heavenly place.

z. First Full Moon of New Year is Hoi Trang Ram in Vietnamese (Carnival of Full Moon, “Tet Nguyen Tieu” in Chinese written literature/history). People go to Pagodas to pray and make offering. Unmarried people go to the Carnivals of First Full Moon to select their matches (as described in “Hát Hội Trăng Rằm” folk song).

aa. New Year Festivals close. People relax to enter Month 2 for leisures.

The popular quotes in Vietnamese is “Thang Gieng la thang an choi, thang Hai co bac, thang Ba hoi he”. It means First Month is for Enjoying Good times, Month 2 for Enjoying Gambling, Month 3 for Carnivals, Meetings”


[1]. tonytran2015, When-is-lunar-new-year-khi-nao-la-tet-am-lich , posted on 2018 January 1st.

[2]. tonytran2015, Simple-determination-of-east-asia-lunisolar-new-year , posted on 2017 January 19th.



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