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Through the Lens of Time: Vietnamese Culture

Vietnamese New Year

Tet marks the arrival of spring and the new year.  It is the most important holiday of the year in Vietnam.  It is a spiritual as well as cultural and national holiday.  It is a time for family, goodwill, and renewal.  The holiday is filled with hope for good luck and prosperity in the year that lies ahead.  The full name of the holiday, Tet Nguyen Dan means “the first morning of the first day of the new period.”


Tet falls sometimes in January or February. The date is determined by the lunar calendar, the same calendar as used by the Chinese. As Tet usually occurs between the harvesting of one rice crop and the sowing of the next, farmers take this chance to rest and celebrate.


Families celebrate and honor their ancestors for three to seven days.  They clean and decorate their homes with spring flowers, wear their best clothes, and watch Dragon or Lion Dances and fireworks.  Streets are decorated with colored lights and red and pink banners.  Family altars and ancestral graves are swept and cleaned. The color red is everywhere.  It stands for good luck and happiness.


Lion Dance

The Dragon Dance, or Lion Dance, is commonly performed during Tet festivals. The mythical creature represents power, dignity, strength, and good luck.  The dragon dance is performed in heavy, bulky costume, and requires many people to work together and perform acrobatic feats in time to a rhythmic drum beat.  The lion dance is very similar to the dragon dance, but requires less people to perform it.  It's believed to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck.

Li Xi

In Vietnam, Tet is also everyone’s birthday. Instead of people changing their age on their individual birthdays, everyone in Vietnam turns one year older on Tet.  On the first morning of Tet, called First Morning, there is a special ritual called Mung Guoi which involves children and their grandparents. Children approach their grandparents and fold their arms in front of their chest as a sign of great respect. They tell their grandparents how they behaved the past year and thank them for their wisdom and guidance. The grandparents then offer praise and advice for the coming year and give the children birthday gifts of lucky money, or li xi, wrapped in small red envelopes bearing a message, such as “Respectful wishes for the New Year.” Over the next few days of Tet, Vietnamese children will receive more lucky money from other relatives and family friends.