Teaching in Vietnam: Tet Holiday

API Teach abroad participant, Lucas had the chance to experience the Vietnamese holiday Tết Nguyên Đán, he shares his story here:

Tết Nguyên Đán is the Feast of the First Morning of the First Day. Generally called “Tet Holiday” or simply “Tet” this is the Lunar New Year in Vietnam and by far the most important holiday. Many people will save for months just to have the proper food, gifts, and drinks that are required for celebrating Tet with all their friends and family. It is marked by the chance for a new beginning in the New Year and ample opportunity for relaxing, traveling and celebrating.

Many people in Vietnam still abide by the Lunar calendar in addition to the Solar calendar. Meaning they go to temple at certain times of the month or abstain from eating meat during particular parts of the lunar cycle. The holiday is widespread throughout all people in Vietnam. It is also the most common time for Vietnamese emigrants to return for a visit in their home country.

Since the holiday lies on the lunar calendar, the date changes every year. Usually, it happens sometime during late January or during February. Some will take off a week of work in order to celebrate the holiday. Some people take 2, or even 3 weeks! My first day of Tet was on February 1st and extended until the 15th – two whole weeks! There was a buzz throughout all my classes in the week leading up to Tet. Students could not wait to have some time off and eat some of their favorite traditional foods. Also to receive “lucky money”; a couple of crisp new bills traditionally given in red envelopes. These are to help the receiver have good fortune in the upcoming year.

Shop selling decorations for Tet Holiday

Shop selling decorations for Tet Holiday

I had been in Vietnam for about six months already when Tet was approaching. This allowed me to have made many deep connections with students and friends. They were not only excited to celebrate this important Vietnamese holiday but to show me the cultures and customs of their country. Many students even offered for me to travel to their homes and stay with their family!

During my first week of Tet, many of my friends were still in school, so we did many of the same things as before: hanging at coffee shops, riding our motorbikes through the city, and practicing English and Vietnamese together. It was nice to have some time to relax in the days before the celebration ahead.

Vietnamese people are notorious for their hospitality. During Tet, there is a special emphasis on welcoming and celebrating with your friends and neighbors to wish them success in the new year. By my second week off from work, I had to make a schedule in order to go to all the houses that had invited me to celebrate with them!

It is customary to wish the host a happy new year upon greeting them – “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!” and then to share a meal. A meal includes “Bánh chưng”, a kind of square sticky rice cake, as well as all kinds of meat, salads, soups, beer, and a toast for every sip of your drink. Some families I visited sang songs or went to the temple to pray. There was a huge party with all the teachers from my school (Vietnamese and foreign) and their families. We had a feast of all kinds of delicious Vietnamese food, sang karaoke and danced around the room!

Making Bánh chưng for Tet

Making Bánh chưng for Tet

On the day of the actual New Year, Vietnamese people will often set off fireworks in a public square. I headed with some students to Ho Chi Minh Square, the main public gathering place in Vinh, and watched as they shot fireworks. They blasted ABBA’s 1980 hit “Happy New Year” and the traditional, chant-like song “Tet Tet Tet Tet Den Roi”. Everybody was so excited for the chance for a fresh beginning. They took particular interest in the American teacher celebrating alongside them.

By the time the 15th came around and I began teaching again, I was actually more tired than before the holiday! The last week had involved house after house of celebration. Even though I was tired, I couldn’t have been happier to be able to share in this truly special holiday.

In the future, I hope to return to Vietnam to celebrate again, just like those Vietnamese that move away from their home country. Only to be reunited with friends and family amidst the joy, hope,and tradition of Tet.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới and Cung Chúc Tân Xuân!

(Happy New Year and Best Wishes in this New Spring!)

To learn more about the Teach in Vietnam program that Lucas was a part of, click here: 

Applications to start teaching in Fall 2016 are currently being accepted. If you stay through the winter or spring, you could experience Tet Holiday firsthand!

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