The Vietnamese New Year is based on a twelve-year cycle, similar to the calendar used in China. In fact, ten out of twelve of the zodiac animals are the same in the two cultures. The only differences are that the Vietnamese calendar replaces rabbit with cat, and goat with sheep. Interestingly, the Chinese word for both goat and sheep is the same. The entire twelve-year cycle is arranged in the following order: Rat (2008), Buffalo (2009), Tiger (2010), Cat (2011), Dragon (2012), Snake (2013), Horse (2014), Goat (2015), Monkey (2016), Rooster (2017), Dog (2018), and Pig (2019) and so on.
The Tet Festival Vietnam is the most important of the holiday events in the country. Although the national holiday officially lasts only three days, celebrations begin earlier in the north, and end later in the south. If you decide that when to go is during this festive time, you can expect to see Vietnamese Tet celebrations for about a week before and after the actual date.
Be sure to check the dates carefully. The New Year in Vietnam is based on the lunar calendar, and does not fall on the same date each year according to the calendar we use in the United States and most of the rest of the Western world. Additionally, you also cannot rely on the Chinese lunar calendar mainly due to the time difference between the two countries. Although the date is often quite close in the two countries, the Vietnamese New Year can be as many as 30 days different than in China. Usually, the date falls in our January or early February.
Preparations for the New Year in Vietnam begin weeks before the day. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom to remove any bad fortune that occurred in the old year. Homes are even painted, and decorated with yellow Hoa Mai blossoms to represent spring. Everyone in the family is outfitted with new clothes. A lot of shopping occurs around this time, and the normally bustling markets are even more crowded. This is also a time of family reunion, and just about everyone in the country goes to visit their ancestral home or makes pilgrimages to sacred places. You will find sites of religious importance, such as the historic pagodas in the Perfume Mountains and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi thronged with pilgrims and worshipers.
As in China and the other countries in Asia with lunar calendars, behavior prior to the Tet Festival Vietnam is very important. Debts are paid and differences are settled. People visit temples and pray for good fortune and health. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Le Tru Tich ceremony occurs, with firecrackers, gongs, and other noisemakers to say farewell to the old and welcome the new. During the first day of the Vietnamese New Year people’s behavior is even more important, with everything geared towards preventing bad luck. People do not visit those in mourning; children do not fight or cry. Gifts are exchanged, and even more visits are made to temples. Families plant a tree in their yards, and decorate with red paper to scare off evil spirits. The decorations are removed on the seventh (last) day of Tet.
What does the New Year in Vietnam mean for tourists, other than bigger crowds at certain places? It is a particularly good time to visit in order to experience one of the most important occasions for cultural exchange with the people. An added bonus is that everything is clean, fresh, and vibrantly decorated. The normally polite people are even more polite. While most shops are closed for the three-day holiday, luxury hotels and resorts that normally cater to tourists will continue to have facilities open. The Tet Festival Vietnam is also a great time to experience different dishes when dining on the local cuisine. While many of the special New Year dishes are served throughout the year, some can be tasted only during the festival.