Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tet Nguyen Dan, which is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tet celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar, which usually has the date falling in January or February.
Vietnamese people celebrate the Lunar New Year annually, which is based on a lunisolar calendar (calculating both the earth’s movement around the sun and the moon around the earth). Tet is generally celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year, except when the one-hour time difference between Vietnam and China results in new moon occurring on different days.
From the first days of the lunar year, everyone strives to plan the perfect Tet by erecting “cay neu” (the Tet pole) 5 to 6 metres high in front of their house, making “banh chung” (a square cake made of sticky rice stuffed with beans and pork), redecorating their homes, painting the foot of trees with white lime powder or painting the pictures of a bow and arrow on the walls to wipe out ghosts and devils.
Tet means saying goodbye to the previous year and starting a new year. So at midnight on New Year’s Eve, a ceremony called “Giao Thua” is held in which a sacrifice for the spirits and the ancestors is made on a lovely candle-lit altar in the open air near the home. In the old times people had many activities to offer each other New Year wishes.