The Beauty of Tết – 8 Traditions I Still Abide By

Before every celebration, is an opportunity for reflection. Why do we celebrate Tết? Tết, by the way, is short for Tết Nguyên Đán, which literally translates to ‘Festival of the first day’ and is also known as Lunar New Year – arguably the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture.

At the end of the day, Tết is about family and family is number one. To my international friends, these are the common Lunar New Year traditions in Vietnam. To the younger generation, don’t be too quick to label traditions as outdated and always make an effort to revisit the “whys” for the sake of the next generation.

  1. Cleaning the House: Before the New Year, we clean our homes to sweep away bad luck and make room for good fortune. This practice reminds us of the importance of letting go of the old and getting on with the new.
  2. New Year’s Eve Family Reunion: On the eve of Tết, we gather with family to enjoy a feast. As we eat, we remember the value of slowing down to spend time with loved ones. There’s nothing quite like an intergenerational gathering of family members bonding over a shared love for food.
  3. Sticky Rice Cake: A new year essential in Vietnamese Tết culture is the iconic “banh tet” or “banh chung”, which is a sticky rice cake made with glutinous rice, fatty pork and buttery mung beans. This is something you don’t see in the Lunar New Year celebrations of other countries. Traditionally, this is a long and arduous dish to prepare and is done together as a family with everyone involved.
  4. Giving Red Envelopes: Also known as “lucky money,” or “li xi”. This is the part children love the most. Adults give red envelopes filled with money to children as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. For the adults, it is an exercise that reminds us of the beauty of giving and the importance of generosity.
  5. Wearing New Clothes: Many Vietnamese people wear new clothes to symbolize a fresh start and a new beginning. Wearing white or black on the first day is an absolute no-go; more power to you if you wear red.
  6. Lion and Dragon Dance: A Lion and Dragon Dance is more than pure entertainment. It is traditionally a ritual performed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.
  7. Platter of five fruits: “Mam Ngu Qua” is a common sight during Tet. The fruits are a symbol of a family’s hard work throughout the past year and are offered to our ancestors as a sign of honor and gratitude. The most popular fruit during Tết is watermelon, thanks to its bright red flesh which is a symbol of luck in this culture.
  8. Fireworks: The loud crackling of fireworks set off at night is both a fun family activity and a beautiful sight. Some believe that it can scare away evil spirits and bring good luck, while I believe in the underlying value of marking important milestones and celebrations.

Do you celebrate the Lunar New Year differently? I wonder if anything struck you as a surprise. As we kickstart our weeklong Tet celebration, I look forward to munching on the many holiday snacks and dishes in the company of family. I can already do with a reset for 2023, and eating Tet is the most delicious way to do it.

Wishing all of you good health, wealth and success this new year!

Sincerely yours,

Stephen Le, Lead Trial Lawyer