Vietnamese New Year Around the World

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 03:27 pm

Tet, also known as the Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnamese, Vietnamese New Year, Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in Vietnam.

Tet is a major celebration focused on family reunions, gift-giving, special foods, and vibrant public events. While Vietnam celebrates similar Tet traditions, they vary from region to region and family to family.

In this Remitly guide, we’ll discuss how Vietnamese New Year is generally celebrated in Vietnam and share ideas for how to have a traditional celebration anywhere in the world.

Vietnamese New Year red envelope on a tree

When is Vietnamese Tet?

The date for the Vietnamese New Year, also called Tet Nguyen Dan, changes every year, as it is based on the Vietnamese lunar calendar. Generally, the holiday falls in late January or early February.

Although dates for this important festival change, they usually occur at the same time as Chinese New Year because the Vietnamese calendar is based on the lunar calendar first developed by the Chinese.

In 2024, Tet will begin on February 10, and New Year’s Eve in Vietnam will be on February 9.

On New Year’s Eve and throughout Tet Nguyen Dan, you’ll hear Vietnamese people say “CHÚC MỪNG NĂM MỚI,“ which means Happy New Year.

Tet New Year traditions in Vietnam

Vietnamese New Year traditions involve three full days of official Tet New Year celebrations, during which most businesses close and people travel to be with family, plus several additional days of preparation for the coming year.

Families prepare by doing major spring cleaning at home, buying holiday gifts and special foods, and cooking a large feast.

The first day of Tết is reserved for the nuclear family. During subsequent days, Vietnamese families spend time visiting friends and extended family members.

Traditionally, but not strictly, people visit friends on the second day of Tết. During a visit, people discuss the previous year and offer Happy New Year wishes to the host family.

The third day of Vietnamese Tet is for teachers, who are important figures in Vietnam. Students may call on current or former teachers to honor the occasion. In some cases, business associates also visit one another in a location with a festive atmosphere on the third day of celebrations.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common Tet traditions.

Public holiday

In Vietnam, the entire week at the start of the new lunar cycle is a public holiday. Government offices, schools, and many businesses close so everyone can attend Tết celebrations.

Lucky money

On the first morning of Tết, children receive red envelopes containing money from their elders. This tradition is called mừng tuổi (happy new age) in North Vietnam and lì xì in South Vietnam.

Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tết greetings before receiving money.

Deciding who will be the first person to enter the house

Since the Vietnamese believe that the first visitor to a family in the year determines their fortune for the entire year, people never enter any house on the first day without being invited first.

The action of being the first person to enter a house at Tết is called xông đất, xông nhà, or đạp đất, and performing it is one of the most important rituals during Tết.

According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to a family on the first day of the New Year, the coming year will also be full of blessings.

As a result, each family hopes that the right person will pass through the door. A house owner usually asks a successful family member or friend to do the honors.

Playing games

In Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other cities, vendors set games up in the street, and children often spend their lucky money on them. There are also many traditional games that families play during New Year celebrations. Some popular ones include:

  • Danh Du: A game to see which two-person team can make a wooden swing go the highest
  • Leo Cot Mo: A competition where people attempt to climb slippery poles
  • Hat Bai Choi: A card game that involves singing
  • Dau Vat: A type of wrestling where opponents are free to kick and punch
  • Co Nguoi: A board game derived from Chinese chess

Watching dragon dances

In Vietnam, the dragon is a holy animal considered a sign of good fortune capable of chasing evil spirits away. The mythic animal inspires a unique form of dance, where teams of 10 to 15 people operate a large dragon puppet mounted on poles.

Dragon dance performances take place throughout Vietnam in honor of Tet. If you plan to visit Vietnam for the holiday, look for a public one to attend. Some wealthy families also pay to host private performances at their homes.

Shopping flower markets

Before or at the start of Tet, many families head to large open-air markets that sell flowers. There, they buy apricot and peach blossoms to decorate their homes for the holiday.

The flowers typically go in entryways, as the Vietnamese associate the blooms with hospitality and believe they invite good luck.

Lighting Vietnamese traditional lanterns

Flowers aren’t the only traditional decorations for Tet. Many people hang lanterns for the festival as well.

Vietnamese traditional lanterns may be made of paper or silk. They come in various sizes and shapes and usually have a single tassel hanging from the bottoms as a decorative finishing touch.

Visiting Buddhist temples

Local Buddhist temples are popular spots throughout Tet. People visit to give donations and pray for good luck. Monks may also perform fortune-telling for visitors during the festival.

Making noise

As in many other countries, making noise at midnight when the new year officially arrives is a common tradition. People believe doing so chases away evil spirits and bad luck from the previous year.

Vietnamese families may set off firecrackers or hit a gong to make noise. In some cases, the whole family may bang on pots and pans.

Constructing a family altar

Just as visiting relatives is an important part of Tet, honoring Vietnamese family members who have passed away is a key part of the festival. People erect family shrines in their homes to pay homage to their ancestors.

Vietnamese New Year taboos

If you’re visiting Vietnam during the Lunar New Year, there are a few taboos that you should know about.

Sweeping during Tết is taboo, or xui (unlucky), since it symbolizes sweeping the good luck away. That is why one cleans before the new year.

It is also taboo for anyone who experienced a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone else during the New Year, lest they bring bad luck to family and friends.

During Tet, it’s also customary to avoid the number seven, which is thought to invite bad luck. The association between the number and misfortune relates to the fact that the name for it in the Vietnamese language is the same as the word for “lost“ or “missing.“

Public Tet festivals

Naturally, the world’s biggest Tet festivals take place in Vietnam. During this national holiday, Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) hosts the biggest Tet festival in Southeast Asia.

The three-day public holiday event features around 150 pavilions, foods from all over the country, a flower festival in the ancient town city center, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve. In 2004, the celebrations included making the world’s largest Tet cake, which weighed 1.9 tons, according to Guinness World Records.

In Hanoi, many shops and businesses close for a full week around Lunar New Year. Public spectacles include dragon and lion dances, folk activities, and huge fireworks displays over Hoan Kiem Lake.

Throughout Hanoi, people buy symbolic pink peach boughs at Quang Ba Flower Market. Hundreds of altars take over the alleys of the Old Quarter along the curbs. Other popular places to visit are Da Nang and Hoi An.

Other major cities in northern and southern Vietnam hold their own public festivals for the Tết holiday with fireworks, art, performances, and more.

Traditional foods for Tet

Although traditions vary, most Vietnamese people eat Tết foods as a part of the festivities. These are some traditional Vietnamese dishes that many families prepare for the New Year celebration.

Banh chung/Banh tet

Also called Vietnamese square sticky rice cake, banh chung (Northern Vietnam) or banh tet (Southern Vietnam) are glutinous rice, pork meat, and mung bean fillings wrapped in square banana leaves. The wrapping gives the rice a green color after boiling.

According to the old legends, banh chung appeared during the Hung dynasty. This cake symbolizes the ground, expressing gratitude to the ancestors and the earth. It also emphasizes the important role of rice and nature in the culture.

In contrast to the fast food of modern life, the process of making banh chung is time-consuming and requires several people working together. Family members often take turns to watch the fire overnight, telling each other stories about Tet.

Mut (candied fruits)

Mut is an indispensable treat during the Lunar New Year festival in Vietnam. Everyone prepares boxes of colorful candied fruits to give to visitors, gift to friends and family, and offer to ancestors.

Typically, guests eat candies and roasted watermelon seeds and drink a few cups of tea. Children enjoy the sweet fruits as little snacks.

Thit kho trung

For this dish, cubes of Vietnamese ham are soaked in garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and coconut water. Hard-boiled eggs are used in this dish because they symbolize happiness.

The pork and peeled eggs are cooked in a pot for a few hours and then served with pickled vegetables (dua hanh and kieu).

Xôi gấc

This red sticky rice is made from gac fruit and is typically paired with chả lụa, the most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine. Chả lụa is made of pork and wrapped in banana leaves.

Vietnamese New Year decorations

Tet Nguyen Dan celebrations abroad

Among Vietnamese people living abroad, Tet traditions take on new forms in their homes away from home. Those living in bigger Vietnamese communities around the world, including approximately 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants in the United States, might get to enjoy big public Tet celebrations. Let’s take a look at some notable ones that take place around the world.

The Tet Festival in California

California is home to the largest Vietnamese population in the United States and hosts a wide array of Tet celebrations each year. Vietnamese expats living in Southern California and the Bay Area celebrate Vietnamese New Year traditions in elaborate fashion.

Held yearly since 1982, The Tet Festival of Southern California is the largest Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival in the United States. Its current home is the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, and the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations organizes the event.

It includes many exhibits and galleries, food vendors, community performances, an ancestral altar procession, and a replica of a traditional Vietnamese village. The festival kicks off with the “Raising of the Bamboo” ceremony and closes with the “Lowering of the Bamboo.”

The San Diego Tet Festival is another large event celebrating Vietnamese culture in California. A three-day celebration, it takes place at the Mira Mesa Community Park and attracts more than 25,000 attendants annually. The Vietnamese Federation of San Diego and the Vietnamese American Youth Alliance run the event.

San Jose, California, which has over 300,000 Vietnamese residents, presents the annual San Jose Tet Festival at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. It’s organized by the Coalition of Nationalist Vietnamese Organizations of Northern California and attracts up to 70,000 people.

Other U.S. Vietnamese New Year Festivals

In New Orleans, the Mary Queen Church of Vietnam hosts a large Tết festival every year, which attracts an estimated 30,000 people. The church is notable for holding a large collection of relics of Vietnamese saints.

Since 1996, Tet in Seattle has presented a free, two-day festival at the Seattle Center. It includes art displays, food, music, and many Tết traditions to celebrate Vietnamese culture and the local Vietnamese-American community.

More Tet festivals around the world

In Australia, the second-biggest destination for Vietnamese migrants, Vietnamese New Year traditions are celebrated in several different cities.

An annual Tet Festival in Melbourne, Australia, was held at Sandown Racecourse in past years but went online in 2021. Typical events include a lion dance ceremony, a fireworks display, Vietnamese music, arts, and cultural offerings.

The virtual event features a fashion show, the Tastes of Tet series, and the Iron Stomach Competition, which involves contestants eating stomach-churning foods. The Vietnamese Community of Australia (Victoria Chapter) organizes the event.

Although it was canceled for 2021, the Vietnamese Community in Australia NSW Chapter typically hosts an annual Vietnamese festival at Sydney’s Fairfield Showground.

Canada also has a sizeable Vietnamese immigrant population, and some of its bigger cities host annual Tet festivals. These include the Tet Community Festival, hosted in previous years by the Vietnamese Association, Toronto.

Celebrating Vietnamese New Year traditions at home

People worldwide who are interested in celebrating the Tet holiday and learning about Vietnamese New Year traditions should seek out local Vietnamese community groups. Look into Buddhist temples and Christian churches serving Vietnamese communities, cultural centers, and student associations.

Sometimes, Tet celebrations are included as part of larger Lunar New Year events serving Chinese, Korean, and other Asian populations.

Even if you can’t find a public Tet festival near you, there are countless ways to enjoy Tet traditions at home. Take inspiration from the many ways Tet is celebrated in Vietnam, and adapt them to fit your lifestyle. Here are some suggestions:

  • Spend a day doing mindful spring cleaning.
  • Buy a kumquat tree or flowering peach blossoms to place outside your front door.
  • Treat yourself to new clothes and a haircut, both common Tet traditions.
  • Decorate your home or room with red and gold paper garlands.
  • Prepare a Tet cake, spring rolls, bitter melon soup, or other traditional Tet foods listed above.
  • Enjoy a big meal with family and friends, and spend New Year’s Eve staying up late, watching uplifting movies, playing games, and enjoying good company.
  • Give dried fruit to adults and red envelopes, or so-called “lucky money,” to children. Here’s how to easily send money to Vietnam if you have loved ones there.

Celebrate tet wherever you are

Many Vietnamese people living abroad have to create Vietnamese New Year traditions on their own. Doing so often means introducing the joyous celebrations, rituals, and delicious foods of Vietnamese culture to new friends eager to learn about New Year’s traditions around the world

Everyone here at Remitly hopes you find luck and happiness during the Tet festival season. The information outlined above will give you ideas of how to celebrate Tet Nguyen Dan wherever you are.

If you want to send money to family members in honor of the first days of the lunar calendar, Remitly can help with fast, affordable money transfers. Download today and make your first transfer in time for Vietnamese tet.