Preparation for the Lunar New Year

Anthropology: Discover Traditional Food and Customs in Vietnam’s Tet Holidays

Preparation for the Lunar New Year
Preparation for the Lunar New Year – credit@vov news

In Vietnam, Tet or Tet Nguyen Dan is the most critical holiday or the most famous festival for the Vietnamese during the year. Thus, rich or poor, living far away, all people return home before lunar new year eve like Christmas eve in western countries. Tet falls from the first to the third of January of the lunar calendar.  And a different sacred animal represents each year and affects the luck and destiny of a person as well. According to Vietnamese culture, there are 12 symbolic animals or zodiac signs: Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. This year a buffalo is the representation of the year.

History of Lunar New Year in Vietnam

According to Vietnam’s history, in the 13th century, people celebrated the Tet holiday through painting tattoos on themselves, drinking glutinous rice wine, treating betel nuts to receive visitors. In addition, many vital rituals include setting up a dome to pray for rain or building communal houses to crave for a year of abundant crops.

At present, on traditional Tet’s opportunity, people come back home to pay respect to their ancestors and join a family reunification after a long time working to earn their living in remote places. As it is the most significant event, people spend a lot of time preparing for Tet. For some, it is not more fun to join hands in preparation for Tet than to enjoy it.

Before Tet, the atmosphere had spellbound most nostalgic. For this reason, they want to keep their remembrance of childhood alive through seeing a familiar environment or meeting their relatives and neighbours. With their family members, they do traditional practices and make food in the Vietnamese customs.

Sweeping a tomb

In the Vietnamese’s notion, a house is a significant property of the living while a tomb is a principal place for the dead. With such a thought, before cleaning a home, people sweep the graves of their grandparents, parents or beloved ones in general. Therefore, the tomb-sweeping practice takes place from December 8th to 25th of the lunar calendar.

First of all, depending on each family’s availability, families gather at their relative’s tomb area to make some offerings to the Earth God. Next, they sweep, clean or paint a tomb. Finally, they put some incent sticks into an incent bowl on a grave and other incent bowls on other tombs. On this occasion, they hold a party at home with their relatives to talk about their business or health.  

Cleaning and decoration of the house

Usually, a week before Tet is the busiest one. As such, everyone, from the young to the adult in a family, has individual tasks to do. Renewing the house is a must. Some paint the whole of a home while others clean a house, a garden, an altar and lots of things. In addition, new things replace broken items or old things. Also, they decorate the front with red lanterns or the living room with apricot trees or calligraphy signs as they believe that a lucky fortune will visit a clean, neat, and tidy house on the first day of a year. Therefore, renewing a home the best is to welcome the lunar new year and receive good luck and fortune.

Shopping for flowers and plants

Similar to the pine tree for the Christmas holiday in western countries, the Vietnamese decorate their home with many kinds of flowers or plants. Again, it depends on different regions, families display various sorts of flowers and plants.

Peach flowers in spring
Peach flowers in spring –

Nothern people prefer peach flowers as their pink colour represents love and joy which spread among people in the spring of the year. There are two kinds of peach flowers: light pink peach and dark pink peach.

Kumquat Tree
Kumquat tree –

While the southern people like Kumquat as it has five characteristics: full of fruit, flowers, leaves, and roots, a symbol for wealth and happiness in a year. In a similar vein, families buy a tree that has both ripe and green fruits, mature leaves and new buds.

Mâm ngũ quả or Five food tray

Fruit tray on the altar
Five fruit tray on the altar –

The arrangement of a five-fruit tray is an essential practice in every Vietnamese household. It is the respect for ancestors and represents their wishes for happiness, longevity and prosperity in the new year. Every fruit on the tray conveys a desire down the road—however, fruit changes in different regions due to custom and climate.

  • In the North, people trust that the essential elements in oriental philosophy, including metal, wood, water, fire and earth, connect white, blue, black, red and yellow, respectively. As such, five fruit would be banana, pomelo, peach, mandarin and persimmon.
  • In central Vietnam, under the harsh weather and infertile soil, the local has a hard time to grow much produce. So their life is full of difficulties. For them, it’s better to pay sincere gratitude than make expensive offerings to the ancestors. And the popular fruit could be dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple, and orange. 
  • While the South is fertile, people grow many kinds of fruits. Therefore, there are plenty of choices. Often, five fruit consists of custard apple, fig, coconut, papaya, and mango. The combination of the five names of fruit means “pray for wealth” in Vietnamese.

Bánh Tét or Cylindrical cake

Bánh Tét (Cylindral Cake)
Bánh Tét – Credit@Thầy thuốc Viêt Nam News

The Tét Cake is famous in the South and Centra Vietnam. Its ingredient includes sticky rice, mung beans seasoned with black pepper and shallot, and pork belly. It is wrapped with banana leaves and put into a log-like shape. As a result, the cake takes on the green colour and taste of leaves. After boiling for 6 to 8 hours, this cylindrical package becomes a traditional food during the Tet holidays.

Bánh Chưng or Square cake

Bánh Chưng (Square Cake)
Bánh Chưng – credit@Báo Điện Tử News

The Chưng Cake is typical in the North and represents the earth because it is square; the world is square in the Vietnamese’s ancient concept. The legend says that the 18th Prince of Hung Emperor invented the Chưng Cake to join a contest for a new king election. He made round and square cakes; the one means the sun and the other the earth.  The cake includes glutinous rice, port meat, and green bean wrapped with bamboo leaves.

Mứt or Candied fruits

Ginger candy
Ginger candy is one of the most popular Tet’s treats in Vietnam – Credit@VN Express-News.

There are a lot of candied fruits to enjoy on Tet holidays, depending on various regions. The local people make candied fruit from the produce they grow in a year. However, there are mainly six candied fruits: coconut candy meant happy gatherings; lotus seed candies signalled fertility; ginger candy, cosiness; ash gourd candy, the wish for a healthy and prosperous year; kumquat candy, luck, peace and prosperity; and peanut candy, longevity.

On the other hand, added sugar makes up a large proportion of the Vietnamese’s daily caloric intake, leading to a substantial cause of obesity and many chronic diseases. Therefore, the above-candied fruits tend to become oblivious down the road. 

Pickled onions

Pickled Onions
Pickled onions – credit@Viet Vision Travel News

During Tet holidays, people eat lots of fat and oiled food, which lessens their appetite and negatively impacts digestion. Consequently, the sour, fresh and low-calorie plate of pickled onions bring eaters an ideal solution to ease the stomach. Pickled onions serve as a natural medicine to help good digestion after high protein meals during 3 Tet’s days. The aromatic, crispy and sour taste of this pickled goes with a sticky rice cake. 

After completing the decoration of the house, making traditional food to treat visitors, the Vietnamese are ready for the Tet holidays. A big part of the population is Buddha worshippers, and a spiritual life plays an essential role in life.

New Year Eve ceremony

New year eve is a sacred time that connects the last year and the present one. Thus, they provide the altar with a dish of fruits to worship the gods. According to the legend, at the end of the year, the old gods assign their work to the new ones at a meeting point of time between two consecutive years. So Vietnamese families see off the old gods and greet the new olds through making offerings to the gods. Additionally, people go to the heart of cities or towns to watch a firework to expel the old and welcome the new of the upcoming year.

Then, with the hope of finding peace and dismissing concerns and worries of the previous year, they go to pagodas or temples to pray for good luck and happiness for their families, beloved ones and themselves. Also, the praying goes with burning incent sticks and spring bud-pick.

However, these practices are criticized as an unfriendly environment deed because they are air-polluted and destroy nature.    

Xông đất or first footing

Visitors first foot into a house on the first day of the year
Visitors first foot on the first day of the year – credit@vietnam plus news

As the first day of the Lunar New Year is a very critical moment for all Vietnamese families, they believe that the first visitor plays a crucial role in their fortune in the ongoing year. Consequently, some want to choose a person to first foot into their houses. If a guest is a good fit with the zodiac of a house owner, that means they have good education or are kind, healthy and wealthy; a family will receive the best luck. Particularly for those doing business, this trust is powerful.

In a visit to a house, the homeowner treats visitors with all the traditional food s/he has prepared before Tet. During a conversation, they exchange wishes for good health, good luck and prosperity.

Nowadays, many young families, under the influence of the western, take advantage of an opportunity of long Tet holidays to go out of a city of the hustle and bustle for relaxation. Thus, they don’t stay home for first footing.

Lì xì or lucky money

Lucky money is put inside a red envelop
Lucky money is put inside a red envelope – credit@saigonfoodtour

Typically, lucky money is some banknotes that are put inside an envelope. Usually, an envelop red as this colour represents good luck. On the morning of the first day of the year, children wish their grandparents, parents and visitors good health and good luck. In return, grandparents or parents offer them lucky money. Lucky money is an indispensable item in Vietnam’s culture of the Tet festival. For children, it is the fondest memories of Tet. In the Vietnamese linguistic dictionary, lucky money means giving children money to welcome their new age. Also, this money will bring children good chances in future, particularly in the path of education, which the Vietnamese put priority in life. Giving lucky money takes place during the three Tet holiday, but it also lasts till many days later.

The first meal of the year

First meal of the first day of the new year
The first meal of the new year at a Vietnamese family – credit@vov news

Tet is a window of opportunity for family reunification or friends’ meeting in the Vietnamese’s concept. Thus, the first meal of the year is a must. It is time for family members who live far away due to livelihood or friends who rarely meet due to earning their living to have a meetup to share experiences or thoughts and talk about events in the past year. The owner will treat their beloved ones with delicious food, and all of them drink to their heart’s content. 

Taboos in Tet holidays

  • Sweep the floor on the first day of the new year to throw away all good fortune or money out of the door.
  • Throwing garbage away on the first day of the new year means getting rid of good luck of a new year.
  • Breaking things. It is ominous.
  • Borrowing money.
  • Paying debt.


In summary, the lunar new year is an opportunity to learn about or discover the culture, gastronomy, and tradition in Vietnam. The tradition and culture in the north, south and central Vietnam are different due to the land’s climate and fertility. As a result, this leads to distinct characteristics of the lunar new year celebration. The government makes an effort to retain these traditions and customs to attract tourists from every corner of the world. So they annually organize spring festivals to promote or highlight the culture.

Due to hard-working, the young generation doesn’t have time to prepare for Tet. They are free from work on the lunar new year’s eve. Thus, their Tet celebration takes place very simply. Therefore, they tend to ignore traditions and customs year by year. Additionally, brand new, delicious confection and food have drawn more attention of consumers than traditional food. That’s why traditional food is sinking in the silence.





Leave a Reply