Origin and traditions of Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year, also known as Tet, is a big holiday for Vietnamese. Whether living in Vietnam or abroad, all Vietnamese knows about Tet, but not everyone knows its origin. Let’s learn about the origin of Tet and some events related to Tet!


When is Lunar New Year celebrated?

Tet is celebrated on the 1st day of January according to the lunar calendar in Vietnam and in a few other countries. Tết can be divided into three periods, known as Tất Niên (penultimate New Year’s Eve), Giao Thừa (New Year’s Eve), and Tân Niên (the New Year), representing the preparation before Tết, the eve of Tết, and the days of and following Tết, respectively.

Origin of Lunar New Year

How the Lunar New Year originated is still a matter of controversy. Most information suggests that the history of the Lunar New Year originated from China, introduced into Vietnam during the 1000 years of Northern domination.

However, researchers have also found some evidence that the Lunar New Year has long been the Tet of the ancient Vietnamese people, rather than of Chinese origin. The first proof is the story “Banh chung and banh day”. The content of the story shows that the custom of making banh chung and banh day and “Tet” appeared from the Hung King’s time, that is, before the 1000 years of Northern domination.

The colloquial term “Tết” is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, with Old Vietnamese origins meaning “Festival of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar, which usually has the date falling in January or February in the Gregorian calendar.

Tết itself only means festival, but is often nominally known as “Lunar New Year Festival” in Vietnamese, as it is often seen as the most important festival. Vietnamese people celebrate Tết annually, which is based on a lunisolar calendar (calculating both the motions of Earth around the Sun and of the Moon around Earth). Tết is generally celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival), except when the one-hour time difference between Vietnam and China results in the new moon occurring on different days. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day.

Many Vietnamese and Hoa people prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and doing house cleaning. These foods include bánh tétbánh chưng, bánh dày, canh khổ qua, thịt kho hột vịt, dried young bamboo soup (canh măng), giò, and xôi (sticky rice). Many customs and traditions are practiced during Tết, such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestor worship, exchanging New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, opening a shop, visiting relatives, friends and neighbors.

Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. They start forgetting about trouble of the past year and hoping for a better and happier upcoming year. This festival can also be referred to as Hội xuân in vernacular Vietnamese, (festival – lễ hội, spring – mùa xuân).

Traditions on Lunar New Year

Praying to Mr. Cong and Mr. Tao

According to Vietnamese tradition, on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, families will worship Mr. Cong and Mr. Tao. Mr. Cong and Mr. Tao are the rulers of family affairs. Until December 23, Mr. Tao will ride a carp to fly to the sky to report everything big and small in the owner’s house to the Jade Emperor. Thanks to that, the Jade Emperor will make decisions, which can reward or punish the owner. People often solemnly see off Mr. Tao so that they “speak well” for their family and bestow fortune and peace in the new year.

Therefore, on this day, families will buy incense sticks, paper money, fresh flowers, five fruit trays, salty ceremony trays, coffin hats, etc. And definitely indispensable golden carp. After the offering is complete, the owner will release the carp, in the hope that the fish will send Mr. Tao to heaven safely. At the same time, this action also carries the meaning of releasing life and doing good deeds in the early spring of the new year.

Banh chung, banh tet

Banh chung, banh tet are traditional cakes of our nation, an indispensable traditional dish on Tet holiday. This is also a very meaningful gift for relatives and friends, with the meaning of fullness and affluence. Therefore, in the days before Tet, many families, clans and villages often gather together to talk, pack cakes and boil cakes all night.

Clean the house

According to Tet custom, every family will clean the house. This is as a way to rearrange the bad things, the bad things of the old year. From there, create a new look, ready to welcome the peace, luck and good things of the new year.

Fruit tray

The five-fruit tray is also a special Tet custom with many meanings. Each region will have different ways of displaying the five-fruit tray, using different fruits. For example, in the North, the five-fruit tray often includes fruits representing the five elements: bananas, grapefruits, oranges/mandarins, whips, …. In the Central region, people often use these kinds of fruits. Fruits such as dragon fruit, banana, watermelon, etc. In the South, the five-fruit tray usually includes: custard apple, coconut, papaya, mango, fig with the meaning “Sufficient demand for figs”.

So why is there a “five-fruit tray”? There are a lot of opinions around this. According to ancient materialism, all things are made up of 5 elements: water, fire, earth, wood and metal; Accordingly, the five-fruit tray expresses the desire for yin and yang to harmonize. According to researcher Huynh Ngoc Trang, the number 5 is the number indicating the center, indicating life; “fruit” is a symbol of affluence, for the will to proliferate and maintain the breed. In addition, in another sense, the 5 fruits represent the 5 wishes of the owner: Phuc (luck), Quy (wealth, affluence), Tho (long life), Khang (healthy), Ninh (peaceful love).

Thus, no matter how it is understood, the five-fruit tray is still one of the indispensable Tet customs, carrying the meaning of wishing for good things in the new year.

Visiting ancestors’ graves

During the Lunar New Year, descendants will visit and clean the resting place of their ancestors. At the same time, descendants will also invite their ancestors to come and celebrate Tet with their families. This is a custom on New Year’s Day showing filial piety and respect for the birth and predecessors of our nation.

Tất Niên (penultimate New Year’s Eve)

Penultimate New Year’s Eve is one of the most important rituals during the Vietnamese New Year. On the 30th – the last day of the year, families will make a decent tray to burn incense to invite the gods and raise money to celebrate Tet. At the same time, this is also a ceremony to say goodbye to the old year and prepare to welcome the new year with better things.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is the most awaited moment in Tet. This is the moment of transition from the old year to the new year, also the moment when heaven and earth intersect, nature and people become closest. On New Year’s Eve, there are often many interesting activities such as dancing, music, fireworks, going to the temple to collect lucky money, lucky money, greetings, breaking the ground, …

Going to the temple to collect the first fortune of the year

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Vietnam. Therefore, going to the temple to collect fortune is a popular custom for many people, whether Buddhist or not. This is a mistaken activity to pray for a new year full of luck, blessings and peace. In addition, going to the temple to collect fortune helps to show respect to Buddha and ancestors.

Broke ground

After New Year’s Eve, whoever is the first to enter the house with New Year’s greetings is called the one who breaks the ground. According to the Tet custom of the Vietnamese people, the person who breaks the ground, if appropriate, will bring a lot of fortune and luck to the owner. Therefore, families often choose people who are suitable for their age, gentle, happy family, prosperous business to invade their home.

Exchage New Year’s greetings

Exchage New Year’s greetings is to send wishes to loved ones.  Along with that, people also give children with red envelopes (lì xì). The custom of exchanging New Year’s greetings and giving red envelops are the ways of expressing the nation’s tradition of “respecting above and giving below” of the nation, showing respect to the previous generation and wishing for the well-being, health and development of the next generation.

The 1st of the Lunar New Year 2022 is February 1 of the solar calendar. Hopefully, through this article, you will have a better understanding of the traditional Tet of Vietnam. Chez Thao wishes you a meaningful and happy 2022 Lunar New Year with family, relatives and friends.

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