Origin and Meaning Of Tet Holiday

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Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday is undoubtedly the most important and biggest festival of Vietnam. It would be a good luck if you are living in Vietnam on these days when Tết Holiday has been approaching to every corner of the streets. 

1/What is Tết Nguyên Đán?

Tết Nguyên Đán has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are, in their homelands or overseas. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Houses are cleaned, decorated, or even repainted; new clothes are bought; debts are paid off; and disputes are sorted out. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.

Typical offerings to the Kitchen God. Photo source: baocungcau.net
2/The Origin of The Name Tết Nguyên Đán:

Vietnam culture is a part of rice agriculture civilisation which divides a year into 24 different parts called ‘Tiết’ (Jie in Chinese). There is a transition time between them, in which the most important part is the start of a new cultivation cycle which is chosen to mark the starting point for a new year or so-called Lunar New Year.

The name Tết Nguyên Đán is a Sino-Vietnamese, derived from the Hán nôm characters 節元旦, which literally means the First Morning of the Year.

  • 節(jié) means festival or season.
  • 元(yuán) means the beginning, initial, marking the arrival of spring.
  • 旦(dàn) means daybreak, dawn, morning (the character itself indicates that the sun (日) has just peeked out from the horizon (__).

Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions, which is why many people prefer to call it Tết Đoàn Viên (Reunion Festival). Everyone looks forward to coming back home before Tết to reunite and celebrate Tết together with their beloved families.

3/The Meaning of Tết Nguyên Đán in a Vietnamese’ life:

Vietnamese people celebrate the New Year with a sacred trust: Lunar New Year is the days of reunion, hope, and luck. After a busy year of working or studying, Tết Nguyên Đán is the time for people to visit their relatives and friends. Besides, Tết is also a time for the lost souls back to their families to celebrate Tết Holiday. On the last day of the year, all the families hold the ceremony to invite ancestors to come back home and enjoy the holiday. It reflects the tradition of Vietnamese people “When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree.” (Uống nước nhớ nguồn)

Moreover, Tết Nguyên Đán is the day of hope, because on that day, all people pray and wish for a year of good weather and bumper harvests. Tết Holiday is also the day of luck because all people think that what happening in Tết Holiday has a special connection to the remaining time of the year. Therefore, on Tết Holiday, people always do good things, give good utterances especially such utterances as wishes of good health, good luck and wealthy. And really be careful in their behaviours and acts.

Tien Vo


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