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Tết Nguyên Đán, Vietnam’s New Year Festival

Tết or Nguyên Đán, is the Vietnamese lunar new year festival. Tết celebrates the beginning of spring in Vietnam—also known as Hội xuân (spring festival). The most important and sacred Vietnamese social gathering, this holiday is a time for family reunions, exchanging gifts, and best wishes.

Tết also shares many similarities with its Chinese counterpart. Many Vietnamese start preparing for Tết two weeks earlier by cleaning their homes, shops, and temples. Weeks before Tết, everybody heads to the street markets to buy gifts and house decorations, as well as ingredients for cooking special holiday dishes. On the day itself, most shops usually close up so that everyone can celebrate the holiday with their loved ones.

One of the traditional holiday delicacies prepared and served during Tết is a special rice pudding called Bánh chưng, a square shaped treat made from glutinous rice in wrapped in dong leaves and stuffed with mung beans, fatty pork, and black pepper. The rice pudding is usually served with pickled scallions or vegetables. Preparations for cooking Bánh chưng are meticulous, members of the family usually take turns watching the delicacy cook, keeping the fire burning overnight, while telling each other stories about previous Tết celebrations. The typical Tết family meal consists of steamed chicken, bamboo shoot soup, bánh chung, fresh fruits, and sugared fruits. All food preparations for the next 3 days should have been completed by the eve of the Tết holiday.

Families also set up their own New Year tree, a bamboo pole with branches adorned in various good luck charms, origami fish, cactus branches and other talismans to repel bad luck and evil spirits. Called the cây nêu, the Tết tree is dislayed for seven days after the Tết day festivals.

During the day of Tết , the Vietnamese dress up in new clothes and make a pilgrimage to their local temples and make offerings of food, liquor, betel fixings, flowers and incense. The Tết celebrants forget the troubles of the past year and hope for a better new year. There are dragon dances in the streets, very similar to the Chinese lunar New Year celebrations.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

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