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Vietnam Tet Holiday

The Meaning of TET

Tet Nguyen Dan

Cau Doi

Cay Neu

Le Giao Thua

Le Tao Quan

Phao No

To regard Tet simply as New Year, as one would in the West, would display a poor knowledge of the people of Vietnam.

In spite of its impressive credentials, the Gregorian New Year has not been generally accepted in Vietnam, in the countryside in particular. Our people pay it a courteous homage but reserve their heart and soul for the traditional Tet.

Tet falls sometime between the last ten days of January and the middle part of February.

For a nation of farmers attached to the land for millennia, it has always been a festival marking the communion of man with nature. In the flow of seasons it is a pause during which both the field and the tiller enjoy some rest after twelve months of labor. In this period of universal renewal the Vietnamese man feels surging within himself a fountain of youth. That feeling explains many fine customs: in the New Year all action should be pure and beautiful for it may be an omen foretelling events in the twelve months that follow.

For three days, one takes extra care not to show anger and not to be rude to people. The most nagging mother-in-law will make peace with her daughter-in-law; a quarreling couple will smile pleasantly at each other; the new world should be the best of worlds. When the holiday ends, people will resume their activities in a new spirit following so-called opening rituals in which the ploughman will open the first furrow, the official applies his seal to the first document, the scholar trace the first character with his pen brush, the trader receives his first customer.

As a rule, all members of the extended family try to spend the holiday (the idiom used is to “eat Tet”) together under the same roof. Children vow to be well-behaved and are often given gifts of cash wrapped in red paper. Several times a day, joss-sticks are lit on the family altar and offerings made of food, fresh water, flowers and betel. Family graves are visited, generally, before the end of the ‘outgoing’ year; fences are mended and the burial mounds tidied up.

The Vietnamese Tet is an occasion for an entire people to share a common ideal of peace, concord and mutual love. I know of no communal celebration with more humanistic character.

(Excerpted from Sketches for A Portrait of Vietnamese Culture, by Huu Ngoc)

Tet Nguyen Dan

Tet Nguyen Dan, is the lunar New year Festival and it is the most important Vietnamese holiday. Tet is the celebration of the beginning of spring as well as a new year. It is the time for family reunions, exchanging gifs, best wishes and the beginning of a new year.


Literally, Tet Nguyen Dan means the first morning of the first day of the new period. Officially, it marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar. In reality, it is a friendly, festive, family holiday. Painstaking care is given to starting the year out right, since it is beleived the first day and the first week of the new year will determine the fortunes or misfortunes for the rest of the year. In order to start the new year right and set the best precedent, vietnamese houses are painted and cleaned. New clothes are purchased for the first day of Tet and old debts should be paid and great care is taken to avoid arguments. Families exchange visits. The first visitor to the house on the first morning of Tet is very important. Particular care is taken to arrange in advance to have the visitor be rich, happy, and pretigious.

The holiday is also observed by a family visit to the church or pagoda to pray for good fortune and happiness. A sprig of the yellow blossomed. HOA MAI, is used to decorate the home. Tet officially lasts for seven days and ends with LE KHAI HA ritual during which CAY NEU is taken down.


Feast of the Household Gods, this holiday falls on the twenty-third of the twelfth month of the lunar year. The holiday marks the day on which the chief guardian spirit of the kitchen returns to heaven to report on the activities of the family. A new spirit is then assigned to the household for the coming year to replace the previous one. On the day of Le Tao Quan, each family pays tribute to the kitchen God. This includes buring sacrificial gold paper and offering a fish )carp_ for him to ride om his journey to heaven.


The transition hour between the old year and the new year. It is one of the most importamt times during the TET holidays. It occurs at the midnight hour on New Year's Eve. GIAO THUA is the time when a family ushers out the spirits of the old year, a ritual called LE TRU TICH. It is especially important to give a warm welcome to the Spirit of the Hearth, TAO QUAN, who has been to visit the Jade Emperor, Drums, gongs and firecrackers announced the hour of LE GIAO THUA


In Vietnam, the first day of the Lunar New Year is called Tet. On the days before Tet, people plant an extremely tall bamboo tree in front of their homes. Bows, arrows, bells and gongs are hung on the treetop with the hope that all the bad luck of the past year will be chased away and everyone will have a happy New Year. The tree is called neu and the story is legend.

Once upon a time, the devil ruled the earth. Everybody worked for him from early morning until midnight. A very greedy creature, the devil seized everything made by men for himself. People worked hard all year round but had almost nothing to eat. All the fruits of their labor went into the devil's warehouses.

One year, there was a very big crop. Rice fields stretched out like golden carpets and the devil was so dazzled, he aimed to take everything and imposed a new rule "the root of the rice plant belongs to the farmers, the rest belongs to the devil." At the end of the harvest, the rice went to the devil. The people had nothing left except clusters of roots.

The suffering of the people came to Buddha's notice. He descended to earth and told them to grow sweet potatoes for the next crop. Following Buddha's advice, the farmers grew sweet potatoes with full hopes of an abundant crop. When harvest came, following the rule, the peasants took the potato root and left the rest for the devil.

Knowing that he had been fooled, the devil gave a new order: " From the next crop onward, both roots and grown plants will belong to the devil, and the rest to the farmers." This time, the devil believed he would get the upper hand. In the next crop cycle, the people grew corn instead where maize cobs grow in the center of the plant. Once again when harvest came, the farmers took all the cobs and left the rest behind for the devil. Again the devil was outsmarted. This time, he made up his mind to take all of the land and the farmers had no more land to farm.

Because of the people's misfortune, Buddha appeared again and they began to complain: "How can we live like this?" "Don't worry" answered Buddha. "Go tell the devil that you want to rent his land for gold. Just rent a small plot of land enough for a single bamboo tree. Make sure that the devil will vow that all land under the bamboo's shadow will belong to you." The people then collected all the gold they had and went to negotiate with the devil. Stunned with the gold and believing that they would certainly be defeated, the devil agreed with the plan at once.

Bamboo trees were planted and they grew straight and luxuriant. Their shadow spread far and wide with every passing year. The longer they lived, the more immense their shadow became. Finally, one day there was no more land for the devil who was driven out to sea. Since then the people have been free to plant any kind of crop they want without giving a portion to the devil.

Being deprived of his land, the devil wanted vengeance at any cost and swore to retrieve his former land. With the support of wild and ferocious beasts, he let his subjects go to the village to plunder and loot the crops. Armed with spears and sticks, the people fought against the hostile forces to guard the rice fields they had gained at the expense of their own lives. At the same time, Buddha appeared and advised them to "Go to the forest and make bows and arrows to kill them and make use of water mingled with garlic and lime to splash on their faces." Following Buddha's advice, they made the weapons and waited for the enemy. When the devil came with his gang, they met tough resistance from the farmers. Leaving their enemies behind, the living survivors ran in every direction.

After that enormous defeat, the devil was put back out to sea and gave up his ambitions to regain the land. His only wish was that every year he be allowed to return to his former native village for a visit to his ancestors' graves.

This is the reason why every year when Tet comes, farmers plant a neu tree in front of their house. The shadow of neu symbolizes the land acquired by the men in the legend. The sounds of small bells and gongs on neu remind us of man's right to own the land and the bows and arrows tell us that they were once the weapons used to fight off the


A literary art form of Chinese origin (parallel sentences). A cau doi, "sentence pair", consists of two sentences or lines. Each line corresponds with the other meaning as well as tone pattern and individual word meaning. The cau doi is usually used to convey good wishes on the Tet holidaya. It is highly specialized form of poetry.

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