Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are. 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. 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.
It is of an important matter for Vietnamese people to clean their houses every Tết holiday. The act of cleaning and tidying the house at the beginning of the New Year is a mark point for a fresh start. We clean our houses to exorcise the evil spirits out of our doors and also to welcome good blessings to the whole family.
1-2/Buy new clothes
Buying new clothes as gifts for the youngsters of the household is one of many beautiful acts to celebrate the start of New Year. As Vietnamese people in the past used to endure starvation and poverty, the children were not given enough clothes to wear throughout the year. Almost the only chance for them to have new clothes is the occasion of Tết, when their parents spend most of the savings for the family to have the best New Year celebration, which includes the buying of clothes for their lovely children.
One of the most common act of celebrating is of course eating. And in order to eat, we need food. The preparation usually starts very early before the arrival of Tết, so that during Tết, we do not need to cook much. Another reason for this early preparation is that during the first three days of Tết, the market is usually closed.
Depending on each region and also each household, there are some traditional Tết food that should be prepared in advance. Here are some references for you.
2/During Tết: The First Three Days Of New Year
Many customs and traditions are practiced by Vietnamese people to celebrate a new year on its first three days. We usually go back to our homeland, visit our ancestors’ grave and pray at the pagodas to receive good fortune and blessings. Besides, we visit our relatives, teachers, friends to dine and have fun with them, while children receive lucky money. This is the perfect opportunity for reunions and gatherings, because only at this time, most people have free time to spend with their beloved ones talking and sharing their lives to make up for the time of separation.
Because of increasing demands, many means of public transportation like planes, trains, long-route buses, etc. offer tickets with doubled or even tripled price compared to that of ordinary days. Therefore, those who want to celebrate Tết at their homelands must book tickets several months in advance.
3/Typical New Year Food
Bánh chưng (Chưng cake)
Bánh chưng is the most common food eaten during Tết. Originated from the North of Vietnam, this dish has many times proved to be more than just a piece of cuisine. Bánh chưng is a national representative, a part of tradition that all of us inherited from our ancestors from the distant past.
Bánh tét (Tét cake)
As paralleled to bánh chưng in the north, bánh tét is in the south. This the representative of the south, sweeter and more like a dessert. This dish can convert the truism in the souls of the makers of it, as well as of all the Vietnamese in the south of Vietnam.
Nem chua (Fermented pork roll)
Nem chua is not only famous in the center of Vietnam, but throughout the nation. People from everyone area of the country enjoy nem chua, for its sour but sweet taste that none other dishes has to offer.
For further information about the three special dishes of Vietnam, please refer to these articles:
4/Side Dishes of New Year Food
During any Tết activity, food is served to increase the enjoyment of each event. Here are some popular types of food specialised for this particular purpose:
4-1/Mứt (Candied fruit)
Candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit, has existed since the 14th century. Whole fruit, smaller pieces of fruit, or pieces of peel, are placed in heated sugar syrup, which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit and eventually preserves it. Depending on size and type of fruit, this process of preservation can take from several days to several months. This process allows the fruit to retain its quality for a year.
In Vietnam, mứt is most loved by children, especially during Tết. It’s healthy, natural and tastes amazing. Lots of adults still enjoy it too. The most popular fruit being candied is coconut, ginger, etc.
4-2/Khô (dried food)
- Khô mực (Dried shredded squid): a dried, shredded, seasoned, seafood product, made from squid or cuttlefish, commonly found in coastal Asian countries, Russia, and Hawaii. The snack is also referred to as dried shredded cuttlefish.
- Khô bò (Beef jerky): a type of jerky, a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. The resulting jerky from the above methods would be a salty and/or savory snack. However, sometimes a sweet or semi-sweet recipe is used, with sugar being a major ingredient in that variation. Jerky is ready-to-eat and needs no additional preparation. It can be stored for months without refrigeration.
4-3/Hạt khô (Dried seeds)
The seeds are usually cleaned, heated and then roasted for eating purpose. There are many types of seed which can be eaten, for example dried roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,… We Vietnamese love to crack the seeds and eat them, just for fun.
5/New Year Games
As Tết is also a holiday and a festival, many traditional games are carried out during this occasion. The games are not only for children, but also for the adults to reminisce back into their childhood.
Tết is usually initiated in February, which is the season of winter in spring, but still the weather is still chilly in the North of Vietnam. Therefore, in the years with warm weather, some rural areas hold the game of catching ducks in the pond. People choose a deep pond, or a pond with high shore, or use a grid or bamboo stick to strap around the pond. The number of players varies on the width of the pond, usually from two to four players maximum. Two large ducks will be dropped down into the pond with for the players to try to catch. The players of this game are not blindfolded but are required to have good agility and swimming techniques.
This game usually takes place on a large grass field. The players is divided into pairs. Each pair will take turn to join the field. One person of each pair will be blindfolded, and have to catch the other person without getting out of the drawn circle. The person who acts as the goat must sometimes makes noise so that the blindfolded person can know where they are. This game is only for fun, and usually it’s the children who enjoy playing it the most.
Wrestling is a beautiful performance of Vietnamese people’s martial arts spirit. The game is an opportunity for the strong wrestlers of the villages to compete with each other to find the winner of the championship. This is the chance for people to show off their strength and also to strengthen the bonds between villagers and villages.
Đánh bài (Card games)
Tết is the season of gambling. For new year’s luck, people are more willing to bet their money on something that they usually don’t. Sometimes we just play cards for fun, with only a small amount of money between the family and relatives, for the sake of the long lasting tradition of the nation.
- Tiến lên (literally: “go forward”): also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, Killer 13, “‘Bomb”‘, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam. It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other “climbing” card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tiến lên, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.
- Bài cào: This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most dependent on the element of chance. This game played with two or more people, the number of people is unlimited but it must be made sure each person has three cards.
- Bài tấn (Durak): a card game that is popular in post-Soviet states. The object of the game is to get rid of all one’s cards. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak. Co-op is not allowed in durak. This game is popular in Vietnam.
- Phỏm or Tá lả: A Vietnamese card games, with 2-4 players.
- Xì dách (Chinese Blackjack): Traditionally, most non-hardcore gamblers will play some form of gambling during the Chinese New Year as it is believed the new year brings in fresh new luck, and Chinese Blackjack is one of the most popular games to be played during the new year.
- Xì tố (Poker)
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd – Crab – Shrimp – Fish)
The game Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice.The six sides of the dice, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the bettor receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives three times their money. For instance, if one were to place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and 1 stag, then the bettor would receive $6.
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is essentially the Vietnamese variation of Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) played in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America.
We usually play this game during Tết, for fun.
These are a few of many customs and traditions practiced during Vietnamese Tết Holiday, as we are celebrating the New Year and also the cultural beauty of our country. If you want to know more about this special event, you can look through our other articles discussing Tết. Happy New Year.
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