Posted by: sharemore1 | January 30, 2012

The Year of the Dragon: Celebrating Tet

Shuttered Shops

New Year’s Day was quiet.  Although the sun came out, the weather was cool and it hardly seemed like the first day of spring.  We didn’t recognize our neighborhood:  few vehicles on the road, no motorbikes parked on the sidewalk and metal shutters on the shops.  We saw three young children, dressed in their best, playing in front of their house, and an occasional family walking to pay a New Year’s visit.

Dressed Up for Tet

It is important to start the year out right.  The first visitor to arrive after midnight is carefully selected to bring good luck, usually a family member who has qualities everyone wants to emulate.

The first day of Tet is reserved for family and close relatives, living and dead.  Each family has an altar, usually with pictures of the husband’s deceased parents.   If I see a young man in uniform, I know without asking he is a brother who died in the American War.  Incense, flowers, candles, trays of fruit, coins and paper money decorate the altar.  Traditional foods are offered to welcome ancestors during their three-day visit.

Special guests and close friends visit on the second day of Tet, while the third day is reserved for teachers and business associates.  The third day is also a time for Buddhists to visit a pagoda and for Catholics to go to mass.  It is the day when ancestors return to heaven as the family burns colorful paper clothes and symbolic money, items they will need for their journey.

Visiting the Pagoda

Tet is considered everybody’s birthday.  Parents, relatives and guests give the children red envelopes containing lucky money to congratulate them on becoming a year older.   Children are taught that ancestors are important family members, whose approval and blessing must be earned by performing good deeds and avoiding dishonorable actions.

Food is an important part of the celebration.  It is not a time to experiment with haute cuisine, but to prepare simple meals reminiscent of the rural past, such as a whole chicken, pork stew with hard-boiled eggs, fish, pickled cabbage, vermicelli soup with bamboo shoots and pork, and red sticky rice.  Banh chung, a square steamed rice cake with pork and mung beans wrapped in a banana leaf, is always served.

Banh Chung

Four different families added us to their busy guest list before and during Tet.  Often as soon as we left, more visitors arrived.

Invited to Tet Dinner

Sisters Enjoying Being Together

Table Set for Tet

Visiting Our Vietnamese Tutor's Family

Visiting homes during Tet we could see  the decorations, learn about the customs, enjoy traditional food and wish our friends good luck, health and happiness in the Year of the Dragon.


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  1. Your two Tet posts are great. With the photos, they gave me a good sense of what it must be like in Vietnam during this holiday.

  2. Really wonderful descriptions and photos, Sharon.

  3. Beautiful pictures – so colorful. What an amazing time you’ve had! See you later this month!

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