Origin and Significance of Traditional Vietnamese Tet

Vietnamese Tet, also known as Tet Nguyen Dan, is the most significant festival for the people of Vietnam. It marks the transition between the old year and the new year, carrying profound humanitarian significance that embodies harmony among Heaven, Earth, and Human. It reflects human connections with nature in spiritual agricultural culture, family lineage, village communities, and profound beliefs in spiritual life.

Moreover, Tet signifies family reunions, demonstrating love and familial bonds through meaningful Tet gifts, warm wishes, and red envelopes (“li xi”) given to celebrate the elders’ birthdays, fostering close relationships between generations. When discussing Tet, one cannot overlook the “thịt mỡ dưa hành câu đối đỏ” (cured meat, pickled onions, and red parallel sentences), the bamboo pole with a bunch of firecrackers, and the green Banh Chung cake or Tet candies, along with a warm glass of New Year’s wine. Hence, as Tet approaches, everyone shops and decorates their homes with traditional foods and decorations, welcoming a lucky, peaceful, and successful new year.

Meaningful Tet Gifts for Loved Ones

Origin of Tet Nguyen Dan

According to Chinese history, the origin of Tet Nguyen Dan dates back to the time of the Five Emperors and evolved over different periods. During the reign of the Three Emperors, the Hạ dynasty favored black, hence selecting the first month, which corresponds to the month of Dần (January). The Thương dynasty preferred white, choosing the month of Sửu, or the last month, as the first month of the year. The Chu dynasty favored red and selected the month of Tý, the eleventh month, as Tet. These dynasties believed in the significance of specific times regarding the creation of Heaven and Earth: the hour of Tý creates the sky, Sửu creates the earth, and Dần creates humans, hence setting different Tet dates.

Significance of Tet Nguyen Dan

In Vietnamese folklore belief, rooted in the idea of “grateful for the sun and rain,” farmers use this occasion to remember the deities associated with the gain and loss of crops, such as the Earth deity, Rain deity, Thunder deity, Water deity, and Sun deity. Farmers also acknowledge the contributions of animals and plants, from rice seeds to cattle, helping them thrive and sustain life during this time.

Vietnamese people, regardless of their occupation or location, anticipate returning home to gather with family during the three Tet days. As the new year begins, people typically pay respect at ancestral altars, revisit temples, tombs, wells, and home yards.

The Sense of Togetherness and New Beginnings

Vietnamese consider Tet Nguyen Dan a joyful day marking the start of a new year, prompting everyone, from adults to children, to dress in new clothes. Before the year ends, households clean, refurbish old items, repaint walls, and tidy furniture to welcome a fresh, clean, and auspicious new year. This lively atmosphere and the excitement of the first days of the year bring joy and enthusiasm to each individual.

Tet Nguyen Dan as a Thanksgiving Day

Vietnamese people perceive Tet Nguyen Dan as a day of thanksgiving. Children thank their parents, parents thank their grandparents and ancestors, employees thank their superiors, and students thank their teachers. This practice has established the tradition of Tet gifts, which has evolved over time. Previously, people exchanged Banh Chung, Banh Tét cakes, or pork cuts as sincere gifts. Today, Tet gifts may include high-value items like sweets, tea, premium drinks, Western cuisine, or expensive items, showcasing gratitude and appreciation.

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