Watch out, Tet is coming!

Blogs - Saigon/HCMC: Jan. 17, 2017

Yep, it’s that time of year again, when everyone merrily voices the illustrious “after Tet” catchphrases: “We’ll do it after Tet.” “We can finish it after Tet.” “We won’t be able to get it done before Tet.” “I’ll quit after Tet.” “I’ll find a new job after Tet.” So what’s your best Tet phrase?

You may also hear: lock up your bike, your house, guard your belongings, Tet is coming. Items often seem to disappear in the run-up to Tet, and traffic police are unusually active. Those of you who have lived in Muslim countries in Southeast Asia will remember these same curious habits during the run-up to Ramadan.

As we all know, Tet is the local version of Christmas and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one, where everyone in the country celebrates the lunar new year with rituals designed to bring good fortune and fame, achieved by following a complex system of traditions. This is the time for family reunions and paying respects to one’s elders and ancestors. It’s definitely the most sacred time of year, practiced for centuries and with no signs of stopping soon.

Top 5 Tet Festivities

  1. Watching Fireworks on Tet New Year’s Eve
  2. Family Parties
  3. New Year’s Greetings
  4. Lucky Money for Children and Elders
  5. Visiting Pagodas

The “tat nien” meal (the last meal of the lunar year) shares all the sadness and happiness and experiences gained throughout the year. These parties are also a time to review family tradition, show respect to elders and strengthen relationships. Definitely a meal worth eating, in our opinion.

The first day of Tet is especially important, as actions on this day will determine one’s fate for the coming year. Might we suggest buying your neighbour a coffee to ensure a really good 2017?

Even during the American War, both sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire to respect Tet – although the North famously broke this tradition during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Tet Food and Flowers

Banh Tet is a traditional cake made with glutinous rice and mung bean, rolled in a banana leaf. Another traditional dish is the five fruits of Tet, or Nam Ngu Qua (the fruits are watermelon, custard apple, coconut, papaya and mango).

Tet holiday

They represent the quintessential hope that Heaven and Earth will bless humans. It demonstrates a Vietnamese view of life: "When taking fruit, you should think of the grower".

You’ll see that in the days leading up to Tet, colourful flowers will fill towns and cities – the peach tree in the North and apricot blossoms in the South. The mandarin is thought to bring good fortune, which is why it’s suddenly widely available.

Lucky Money!

Get hold of lucky money envelopes as children and young adults expect riches and luck from these red sashes (some supermarkets hand them out at the cash register – grab them). Lucky money, lucky money, where’s my lucky money!

Most Vietnamese return to their hometowns for quality time with family and friends. The sudden rush to accumulate wealth to share may have something to do with the sharp increase in “merry” trickery.

Lucky money Tet new year

Some say the country is on pause. Recruitment of staff becomes impossible, as all are awaiting the 13th month payout.

A fascinating aspect in recent years is the two months preceding Tet. If you’ve been here for a while you probably have encountered countless people saddened while getting roundly shafted: “I’m sad, my motorbike was stolen, my purse/backpack with all my money and phone was stolen, my landlord won’t return the house deposit, my cousin stole my boyfriend, then dumped him.” Have you noticed how customer service becomes dependent on “coffee money”?

Trials and Tribulations

The days leading up to Tet are meant to be a joyful occasion, giving thanks to Heaven and Earth, wishing our loved ones well. Why the stress? Some suggest it’s the acute social pressure to spend money during the festive season.

Motor vehicle accidents rise during this time of year. Perhaps it is the eagerness to get home, pent-up energy, parties leading to tipsy driving, or the desire to just let loose. Limit your driving on the lead-up to Tet.

Travelling during Tet, the busiest travel season in Vietnam, is full of surprises. Prices of hotels and food sharply rise, accommodation/eateries burst at the seams, and airplanes are fully booked.

When all the festivities come to a close, life returns to a form of relative normality. Another Tet has come and gone. Enjoy!