TET, The lunar New Year introduction :

The Vietnamese New Year – Tet Nguyen Dan – follows the same lunar calendar that governs Chinese New Year celebrations worldwide. So on the same day the world celebrates Chinese New Year, the people of Vietnam celebrate Tet.

The Vietnamese consider Tet to the most important one in their considerable festival lineup. Family members gather in their hometowns, traveling from across the country (or the world) to spend the Tet holidays in each other’s company.

The first day of Tet is usually spent with immediate family, the second day is for visiting friends, and the third day is dedicated to teachers and visiting temples.

Because the principle goal is to attract good fortune for the new year, Tet and Chinese New Year share a lot of similar traditions. For instance, you shouldn’t sweep during Tet because you could inadvertently sweep away new luck. The same goes for any cutting: don’t cut your hair or fingernails during the holiday!

One of the most important traditions observed during Tet is the emphasis put on who is the first to enter a house in the new year. The first person brings the luck (good or bad) for the year! The head of the house — or someone considered successful — leaves and returns a few minutes after midnight just to ensure they are the first to come in.

Contrary to popular belief, foreign visitors can and do join in the Tet fun. In the next few chapters, we explain the significance of the holiday, places that throw the best Tet parties, and survival tips for Tet visitors.

Tet is a great time to see Vietnam at its most colorful, especially in the cities of Hue, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Visiting Vietnam on the very first days of Lunar New Year, tourists may feel curious when seeing children are extremely happy and excited about receiving tiny red envelopes from adults. What are those envelopes and is there anything inside? The answer is quite simple. It is “li xi” (Southernly called) or “tien mung tuoi” (Northernly called)- or lucky money, a traditional custom which is very popular not only in Vietnam but also in other Asian societies. The convention of giving “li xi” has its roots in the folklore about the ogre called Tuy. Once upon a time, living in a huge peach blossom tree in the East Sea were all evil spirits on Earth. While being kept inside the tree and controlled by deities, they always tried to escape and harmed people.

However, on New Year’s Eve, as the deities had to gather together at the Heavens, Tuy would appear, rubbing small children’ head to make them burst into loud wails and get high fever. Thus, the whole family had to stay awake all night to protect the children from the ogre. However, some Deities while once stopping by a village had turned themselves into gold coins. Parents covered those coins in red cloth and placed under a child’s pillow. Later, when Tuy came, the coins sparkled and drove it away. Good news quickly spread out all over the country, and from that time on, Vietnamese have had the tradition of giving small children lucky money in red envelope on the first day of Lunar New Year

However, reservations are bound to be filled up long before the actual holiday, and transportation before and after Tet is bound to be sketchy at best (everybody wants to be home for Tet!). Also, many tourist spots are closed for several days between Tet.

Do visit if you intend to stay in one place for the duration of Tet, and can commit to letting the Tet travel rush die down. Expect prices to be jacked up to the maximum throughout the Tet holiday. Don’t take it personally – everyone else is paying up, too.

Visiting Hanoi during Tet

The Vietnamese capital is the best place to see traditional Tet celebrations taking place, all taking place between the second and seventh day of the festival week.

At the stroke of midnight on Tet eve , fireworks shows will go off at five key areas across Hanoi: Thong Nhat Park, Van Quan Lake, Lac Long Quan Flower Garden, My Dinh Stadium and Hoan Kiem Lake.

On the sixth day, the Co Loa Citadel to Hanoi’s north sees costumed locals forming a procession, much as their ancestors did long ago, in the Co Loa Festival; only today, civilians march in the parade, instead of the former military officials and government mandarins.

Finally, a calligraphy festival takes place all throughout Tet on the grounds of the Temple of Literature in old Hanoi – calligraphers called ong do set up shop in about a hundred booths, brush in hand, writing auspicious Chinese characters for paying customers.

Visiting Hue during Tet

The Hue imperial citadel, located in the former royal capital of Hue, has seen a renaissance of royal-era traditions, none more significant than the raising of the cay neu, or Tet pole, on the palace grounds.

The cay neu repeats itself as a traditional bamboo plant in millions of Vietnamese homes, but the one in the Hue citadel is the biggest and flashiest. The first cay neu was traditionally first set up by the Buddha to drive away evil monsters.

An elaborate ceremony raises the Tet pole on the first day of the holiday; the process is repeated on the seventh and the last day, marking the end of Tet. In olden times, Hue residents would take their cue from the palace ceremonies to set up and take down their own cay neu at home.

Visiting Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) during Tet

The mass of motorcycles jamming Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t go away during Tet, but parts of the city explode in color during the week-long festival.

On the eve of Tet upon the stroke of midnight, fireworks shows will ignite at six areas across the city: Thu Thiem Tunnel between districts 1 and 2, Dam Sen Park in District 11, Cu Chi Tunnels in Cu Chi District, Rung Sac Square in Can Gio District, Lang Le-Bau Co historical site in Binh Chanh District, and the Nga Ba Giong Memorial in Hoc Mon District.

In District 8, Tau Hu Canal becomes the site of a flower market, with blossoms and ornamental trees sourced from the nearby provinces of Tien Giang and Ben Tre. The market’s wares vary wildly, from cheap cockscomb flowers in pots to expensive yellow apricot trees.

Yellow Apricot (Hoa Mai) tree :

If the peach flower is the symbol of Tet in the north, then the yellow apricot flower is its counterpart in the South. The yellow apricot flower belongs to the family of hoang mai (meaning “yellow apricot” in Chinese), which is a forest plant. The trunk and sprigs of the yellow apricot flower are suppler than those of the peach plant. The flowers grow in bunches and have stalks that hang loosely near the branches at the side of the leaves. The flowers are yellow and their scent is modestly secretive. The leaves of the yellow apricot flower fall in the winter. There are varieties of yellow apricot, including mai tu qui (apricot of all seasons) and nhi do mai, which begin to produce red coloured fruit after blossoming.

Mai chieu thuy, the aquatic variety of apricot flower, have small leaves and small flowers that blossom in white, scented bunches. Mai chieu thuy, which blossoms in the spring, is generally planted in small rock gardens. Its trunk and branches are trimmed and bent so that it becomes a sculptured plant.

The apricot plant, which is planted to give flowers on the occasion of the New Year is planted from seeds or by the grafting of branches. The plant can be planted in gardens, in flowerbeds, or in pots.

Basicly, make sure all your arrangements have been properly booked in advance as most flights and other means of transport will be fully booked ! Expect to pay around 10-20% extra in some restaurants that are open during TET, also the locals pay the extra on those days.

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Chuc Mung Nam Moi to the year of the Cat !

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