Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival

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Huan Phu
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Last Updated: March 15, 2024

Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration, is the most important festival in Vietnam. It marks the beginning of the Lunar new year and brings with it lots of celebrations. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at those celebrations and answer all of your most pressing questions concerning Tet.

When is Tet Festival?

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Flower boats seen on Binh Dong Canale, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on the day before Tet (Lunar New Year), 2023. Photo by Zuyet Awarmatik

Tet is a spring festival that typically falls between mid-January and early February, but the date changes every year as it follows the lunar calendar.

Here are the Lunar New Year dates for the next few years:

  • Tet in 2024: February 9 to February 16 – Year of the Dragon
  • Tet in 2025: January 29 to February 5 – Year of the Snake
  • Tet in 2026: February 17 to February 24 – Year of the Horse
YearTet DatesZodiac Animal
2024Feb 9 – Feb 16Dragon
2025Jan 29 – Feb 5Snake
2026Feb 17 – Feb 24Horse

The Vietnamese new year falls on the same dates as the Chinese New Year because they are both celebrating the same event; Tet is simply the Vietnamese version of the celebration.

A Little History About The Vietnamese New Year

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Traditional Tet activities in Ha Noi. Photo from Lao Dong Newspaper

Tet is the ancient celebration of the arrival of spring, and many of the symbols, colors, and customs enforce this image of new life and opportunity.

“Tet” is a shortened form of ‘Tet Nguyen Dan’, which means ‘Festival of the First Morning of the First Day’ in Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese New Year was first celebrated by the Chinese in Vietnam over 2000 years ago. At that time, Vietnam was part of Ancient China and so the Chinese New Year transcended generations to become the Vietnamese New Year.

The Tet festival was originally a three-day celebration, but it has gradually expanded to last up to two weeks. Another great benefit of Tet for employees in Vietnam is the custom to get paid a ‘13-month’ bonus, meaning that employees will receive 1 month’s pay as a bonus. Companies often employ expats working in Vietnam with that clause in their contracts! 

What Happens During Tet?

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Banh mut is a must-have item in every Vietnamese family during Tết Holidays

Tet is the most important national holiday in Vietnam and Tet celebrations usually last up to 14 days. Most people have time off work to travel to their hometown and spend time with family members. Note that all the vacationers make travel during Tet much more expensive, though. Flights, hotels, and tours tend to be 2-4 times as expensive as they are during seasons not involving the Vietnamese New Year.

Tet is a time for new beginnings, and many people make resolutions for the coming year. Tet is also a time of celebration, with lots of food, beer, and family gatherings.

There are many traditions and customs associated with Tet, which vary from region to region. In this article, we will take a look at some of the most popular Tet traditions in Vietnam.

Best Things To Do During Vietnamese Lunar New Year

When visiting Vietnam as a traveller or an expat, there are a few things you should definitely do during Tet. Here are our top picks:

1. Public Celebrations & Events

Attend a Tet Celebration or Parade

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A traditional Tet dinner of Vietnamese during the holidays. Photo by Duong Thinh

One of the best ways to experience Tet is by attending a celebration with family or friends. Many cities and towns will have Tet celebrations with food, music, and traditional games.

If you attend a private celebration like a family gathering, it’s important you respect the sacred occasion by educating yourself about Vietnamese etiquette and being on your best behavior.

Attend a year-end party

If you get invited to a Vietnamese year-end party, don’t pass. Most workplaces, schools, and neighbourhoods will host a party. 

During Tet, you can expect a royal-like celebration with food, beer, and chanting. Mot, hai, ba, dzo (do is pronounced as /yo/ and the phrase means “1, 2, 3, cheers”)!

Watch The Tet Fireworks

Danang International Fireworks Festival 2023
Danang International Fireworks Festival. Photo by Danangfanstacity

One of the most popular traditions is to watch Tet fireworks on New Year’s eve. A sky full of colorful fireworks is a beautiful sight to behold especially as they are restricted in Vietnam for most of the year.

Fireworks displays are often held in major cities throughout Vietnam during Tet but the most famous fireworks are in Ho Chi Minh City.

There are many amazing destinations in Vietnam and just because it is Tet doesn’t mean you can’t travel like you usually would. Really, the possibilities for things to do in Vietnam are endless.

Take a Walk Through the City

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Alley 100 on Tran Hung Dao Street also gets dolled up for the festive season. Photo by VNExpress

Ordinarily, the streets of metropolitan Vietnam are pretty hard to get around by foot. The traffic is usually hectic, the sidewalks are blocked thanks to parked motorbikes, and the weather is not exactly temperate. During Tet, though, the city streets empty out and become peaceful.

Venturing down usually-busy streets and through alleyways will take you past rows of Vietnamese flags hanging from windows. You’ll see family reunions on front stoops with people playing games, singing karaoke, and smiling from ear-to-ear. Some of them may even invite you in for a beer! It’s a fresh new perspective on urban Vietnam that you don’t see during most of the year.

2. Cultural and Traditional Practices

Send Tet greetings

Down in Chinatown
Traditional Tet greeting cards in District 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

Tet is a time for sending blessings and good wishes to family and friends. Traditional Tet greeting cards are often decorated with poems or messages of good luck for the new year. The traditional look for a Tet greeting card is red with gold trim and calligraphy lettering.

Send a nice message to your friends and family and join in the well-wishes!

Visit pagodas

hcmc city tour
Down in Chinatown by Adrien Jean

Many people visit pagodas during Tet to pray for good luck in the new year. The pagodas are often decorated with flowers and lights, and the air is filled with the smell of incense.

A visit to a pagoda during Tet is a must-do for any traveller or expat in Vietnam to show respect and get a little closer to Vietnamese culture.

Buy New Year’s lottery tickets

Another popular thing to do during Tet is to buy lottery tickets. The idea is that if you attract good fortune now and the rest of the year will be just as lucky.

Lottery tickets are a popular purchase during Tet and make for a great gift idea, too.

3. Social and Family Activities

Give Gifts & Lucky Money

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Giving lucky money is one of traditional activity during Tet holiday. Photo by Taan Huynh

Tet is also a time for giving gifts to family and friends. Popular gift items include flowers, fruits, candy, and cigarettes.

Join in the festivities by shopping for some interesting and traditional Tet gifts.

Play games

Tet is a time for playing games with family and friends. Popular Tet games include Tổ tài lộc (a game of chance), Bầu cua tôm của (a game of tossing coins), and Đá quả cầu (a marble-rolling game).

4. Modern Celebrations

Celebrate at bars and clubs

dao house
Photo by Dao House Rooftop.

For those who want to celebrate Tet in a more festive atmosphere, there are plenty of bars and clubs that will be hosting Tet celebrations. Note that many of the venues will likely be closed or at least have shortened hours during some days of Tet, so you should make sure it’s open before you go. That being said, most popular businesses aimed at expats and tourist sites remain open almost every day during Tet.

Check out these great bars in Hanoi or these fantastic bars and clubs in Ho Chi Minh City.

Make A New Year’s Resolution

Many people make resolutions for the coming year during Tet. For example, people might resolve to quit smoking, lose weight or save money. Much like New Year’s resolutions in the West, but this is the Vietnamese New Year version.

It’s seen as a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, so it’s the perfect time to make resolutions!

11 Vietnamese New Year Traditions To Know

One of the most important customs during Tet is ancestor worship. Prior to Tet, families will go to their ancestors’ graves and offer food and drinks. They will also clean the graves and decorate them with flowers.

This is also a time for family reunions. Vietnamese people usually visit friends and relatives during Tet, and exchange New Year’s greetings and special Tet gifts.

Here is a guide to some of the most popular Tet traditions in Vietnam:

1. Cleaning Your House For Tet Festival

A man cleaning his gate. Photo by Cuong Do - Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival
A man cleaning his gate. Photo by Cuong Do

Before Tet, it’s traditional to clean your house from top to bottom in preparation for the new year. This is seen as a way to sweep away the old year and make way for new beginnings.

You’re also not allowed to do any housework like sweeping the floor during Tet, so it’s a good idea to get your cleaning done ahead of time!

2. Buying New Clothes For Tet Holiday

Tet is a time for new beginnings, so it’s customary to buy new clothes to celebrate. Most people will buy clothes for both themselves and their children.

It’s also considered bad luck to wear old clothes during Tet, so be sure to pack your new outfits!

3. New Toys For A Lucky New Year

Buying new toys for the New Year is another Vietnamese tradition. The family hopes new toys for the kids will bring good luck and happiness to the children’s lives during the entire following year.

4. Lucky Money – The best ‘Tet Nguyen Dan’ tradition

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Lucky money on table. Photo by Taan Huynh

It’s also customary to give red ‘lucky money’ envelopes filled with money to children and elders, this is known as ‘li xi’ in Vietnamese.

The amount of money in the envelope usually depends on the relationship and age between the giver and receiver but can range from 20,000 VND to 500,000 VND ($0.88 – $22).

5. Win A Little Lucky Money From Cards

One of the most popular traditions during Tet holiday is gambling. Many Vietnamese people will gamble during Tet in the hope of winning big! Though, the Vietnamese aren’t big gamblers as it is banned during the year – except for Tet holiday. Popular games include tien len (a Vietnamese version of gin rummy), poker, and bingo.

6. Decorating With Tet Flowers And Plants

Mai flower in Tet holiday. Photo by Duyet Le - Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival
Mai flower in Tet holiday. Photo by Duyet Le

In Vietnam, it’s considered good luck to decorate your home with flowers and plants during Tet holiday.

You can buy traditional Tet flowers and plants like peach branches, apricot blossoms, and bamboo. The most popular Tet flower is the peach blossom.

7. Paying Off Debts

Before Tet, it’s customary to pay off any debts from the past year so you can start the new year debt-free. This is seen as an important way to begin the new year with a clean slate.

8. Wearing Red for Tet Holiday

In Vietnam, red is a color of good luck, so many people wear red during Tet. You’ll see people wearing red clothes, accessories and nail polish.

The most popular traditional dress is known as an ‘ao dai’ which is worn by teachers, office workers, and schoolchildren for traditional Tet celebrations.

Red is also the color of the Vietnamese flag, so it’s a patriotic color to wear during Tet holiday.

9. Dragon Dances At A Lunar New Year Festival

Down in Chinatown
Lion Dance In Ho Chi Minh / Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

One of the most popular Tet traditions is Dragon dances and Lion dances (the same tradition but two different names).

Dragon dances are often performed at Lunar New Year festivals, and they are a sight to behold!

A crew of 3 or 4 men dress in a dragon suit and control the dragon’s movements. The dragons are made of colourful cloth, and they are often accompanied by loud music and drums. It’s a truly amazing experience to see a dragon dance in person.

10. Visiting Friends and Family Members

Going around to the houses of friends and family is an important part of Tet. In most cases outside of your nuclear family, though, the “schedule” of visiting friends is determined by your Vietnamese zodiac sign, their zodiac sign, and the compatibility between the two. People visit relatives in hope of starting the new year out on the right foot.

11. Traditional Tet Food Feasts And Lucky Food

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Essential foods at Vietnamese dinner in the south of Vietnam

Another Vietnamese tradition is to prepare a Tet feast for family and friends. The Tet feast typically includes dishes such as pork, chicken, sticky rice, and soup.

There are many traditional foods that are considered lucky to eat during Tet holiday. Let’s look closer.

Food – One Of The Most Important Aspects Of A Vietnamese New Year

Wraping banh chung. Photo by Pham Manh2 - Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival
Wraping banh chung. Photo by Pham Manh1 - Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival

Wraping banh chung. Photo by Phạm Mạnh

A Lunar New Year in Vietnam is not a celebration without traditional Vietnamese food. There are many special Vietnamese foods that are considered lucky to eat during Tet, and they vary depending on which region of Vietnam you’re in.

If you’re in Vietnam during Tet holiday, be sure to experience some of this traditional Tet foods like:

  • Banh Chung: a sticky rice cake made with pork and beans, wrapped in banana leaves
  • Banh Tet: a sweet rice cake topped with mung beans and coconut
  • Fried Rice: a dish of pork, shrimp, and eggs served with rice
  • Thit Kho Tau: a caramelized pork dish
  • Che Dau Trang: a sweet dessert made with black soybeans and tapioca pearls

Where To Celebrate Tet In Vietnam?

Tet is celebrated nationwide, with the biggest new year celebrations are held in the major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and the ancient town of Hoi An.

As most Vietnamese people have time off work, visiting Vietnam during this time means cities are quiet and services are limited, though tourist areas are usually still bustling with foreign and domestic tourists.

Ho Chi Minh City – Party In Southern Vietnam

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fireworks display over city Bitexco during Lunar New Year’s Eve. Photo by Streetwindy

The largest city in South Vietnam is the most popular destination to have a New Year celebration as the weather in Southern Vietnam is quite pleasant at this time of year and there is a festive feeling in the air. The streets are quiet but there is plenty to do in expat districts such as District 2.

The New Year’s Eve fireworks performances in Saigon generally last 15 minutes. The fireworks display points in Ho Chi Minh City include 1 high-altitude display at the beginning of the Saigon River tunnel (Thu Duc City) and 5 low-altitude points: Dam Sen Cultural Park (District 11), Memorial Temple Ben Noc relic site (Thu Duc city), Ben Duoc martyrs memorial temple area (Cu Chi district), Mau Than 1968 martyrs memorial area (Binh Chanh district) and Can Thanh town center (Can Gio district).

Hanoi – Winter Vibes In Northern Vietnam

Fireworks over Guom Lake in Ha Noi. Photo from Thanh Nien 1100 17036617020131487520230 - Vietnamese New Year – Tet Guide For A Distinctive Lunar New Year Festival
Fireworks over Guom Lake in Ha Noi. Photo from Thanh Nien

Vietnam’s capital is the most culturally authentic place to be for the Tet. The city comes alive with festivities, decorations and traditional food. There are many public events that take place throughout the city, including a huge street fair in Hoan Kiem district.

The New Year celebrations have an extra festive feel as Hanoi experiences one of the best winters in Vietnam – with fresh weather and cosy bars.

Hoi An – Ancient traditions in a UNESCO Heritage Site

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Lanterns in Hoi An // Photo by VIA Ambassador Etienne Bossot

Hoi An is a charming town in Central Vietnam with many traditional houses and narrow streets. The Tet celebration in Hoi An is special as the town celebrates both the Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year.

There are many traditional activities to participate in such as making lanterns, decorating homes, and eating traditional food. For tourists, it’s a great opportunity to see how the locals celebrate Tet in a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Traveler’s Tips To Celebrate Vietnamese Lunar New Year

If you’re planning to visit Vietnam during the Vietnamese New Year, you couldn’t miss those tips!

Book your tickets early: If you’re planning on traveling to Vietnam during Tet, it’s best to book your hotel and Vietnam tour early as many services will be limited.

Be prepared for crowds: Tet is the time for Vietnamese families to travel across the country to visit their ancestral hometowns. Expect crowded airports, train stations, and tourist destinations in the lead up to the Spring festival.

Respect the local customs: During Tet, Vietnamese people are busy visiting family and friends, so be respectful of their time and don’t intrude on private gatherings. If invited to a Tet party, consider bringing Tet holiday gifts such as red envelopes with money inside.

Learn how to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese and other Tet greetings

Chuc Mung Nam Moi – Happy (Vietnamese) New Year!

Cung Chuc Tan Xuan – Wishing you a prosperous new year!

An Khang Thinh Vuong — Security, good health, and prosperity.

Van Su Nhu Y — May things go according to your will.

Vietnamese New Year Festival FAQs

I’m sure there are a few lingering questions surrounding Vietnamese Tet. Here are a few FAQs:

You can buy Tet flowers and plants at any flower market in Vietnam. The most popular Tet flower is the peach blossom.

You can find traditional Tet food at any Vietnamese restaurant and you can cook a lot of these special dishes at home with a good recipe.

If you are lucky enough to know a Vietnamese family, they may invite you to their feast. This is the best way to get close to the delicious Tet food action.

If you are in the South, use our guide to the best restaurants in Saigon to find something extra tasty. Or if you’re planning a trip up North, you need our guide to the best.

In Vietnam, red is a colour of good luck. It also means happiness, wealth and prosperity.

Red secured its place in Vietnamese culture through ancient Viet folklore and legends that believed demons and evil spirits were afraid of the color red.

The Vietnamese use two calendars – the Gregorian calendar, also known as the Solar calendar, which is used in most countries around the world, and the Lunar calendar.

The lunar calendar is about 12 days shorter than the solar calendar, as it is based on months that are 29 or 30 days long, whereas the Gregorian calendar is based on months that are between 28 and 31 days long.

The Lunar calendar is used for important events such as Tet, because it is seen as a more accurate way of measuring time based on the cycles of the Moon.

The lunar month is said to be in tune with the natural rhythms of the earth, while the Gregorian calendar is more in line with the solar cycle.

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A father and his daughter at a dragon dance in district 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

Tet is a very important Vietnamese holiday that has been celebrated for more than 2,000 years. Visit Vietnam during the Tet season to gain a new appreciation for the country’s traditions and culture.

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Huan Phu
Editor at Vietnam Is Awesome
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