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What is Vietnam’s Tet festival?

| Words by Rachel McCombie |

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you might have read references to a festival called ‘Tet’. If you’re wondering what this is, read this guide to find out more.

Tet is Vietnam’s New Year festival, best described as a combination of western Christmas and New Year celebrations rolled into one. It heralds the arrival of spring in January or February, as calculated by Vietnam’s version of the Chinese Lunar Calendar; for this reason, it’s sometimes also called ‘H?i xuân’ or ‘Spring festival’. Wedding celebrations in SaigonWedding celebrations in Saigon

It’s the country’s biggest annual celebration, and traditionally was a much-needed break that took place during a gap in the farming calendar. The word ‘Tet’ comes from ‘T?t Nguyên Ðán’, which literally translates as ‘Feast of the First Morning of the First Day’. As well as welcoming in the New Year, Tet is a time for Vietnamese people to remember their ancestors, settle arguments and debts, and buy new clothes. What’s more, because the Vietnamese believe that what they do during Tet influences their fortune for the rest of the year, people are especially friendly and smiley during this celebration.

How do the Vietnamese celebrate Tet?

Tet is a time for family, and Vietnamese people gather with their relatives for feasting. Among the foods prepared and eaten during Tet is Chung cake, a traditional square rice cake wrapped in leaves, which has several regional variations. It’s also traditional to decorate the house with a kumquat tree, branches of peach blossom and other floral displays. Red and yellow are popular Tet colours, as these are thought to bring good luck; as well as exchanging gifts, families give children money sealed in red envelopes.

Travelling to Vietnam during Tet

Though it is a time of celebration, giving the country an upbeat atmosphere, Tet is generally not the best time to travel to Vietnam. This is because it is when Vietnamese people take their holidays; hotel prices will likely be at their most expensive, public transport will be extremely crowded, and lots of places you might want to visit - such as museums, shops and restaurants - will be closed. However, if relaxing on the beach is your primary aim, Tet is a time when the beaches will be relatively quiet. It can also enhance your trip to see your destination decked out in Tet flowers and lanterns; just make sure you allow plenty of time before or after Tet for visiting museums and doing some shopping.