Hitchhiking Vietnam
life in vietnam

TET (Lunar calendar: Month 1, Day 1)
The single most important festival of the year. It's Christmas and Thanksgiving and everybody's birthday all rolled up in one. The country quite literally stops for a week while everyone hurries around preparing for the big event(s). Flights in and out of the country are booked up to a year in advance.

What happens:

  • Family reunions all over the country. Everyone goes home. Even the spirits of the deceased return home to spend Tet with their families.
  • Everyone buys new clothes and cooks traditional Tet foods (rice cakes, meat rolls, candied fruit, etc.)
  • The local marketplaces become giant carnivals every evening.
  • Homes are decorated with flowers (especially miniature orange trees and plum blossoms)
  • People are very careful to put their "first foot" forward on Tet - no coarse language or unbecoming behavior - as this first day will be an omen for the coming year.
  • Red is the color of good luck and happiness.
  • Most transportation and all official business stops.
  • Everything gets a LOT more expensive...
The Spirit of the Hearth is sent off to report to the Jade Emperor on the household events of the past year.

A sacrifice is offered to ancestral spirits.

At midnight the old year is ushered out and the new brought in with firecrackers (loud enough to scare away evil spirits). In 1995 the government banned firecrackers (insisting that they were a waste of money) but I saw several families openly defying the law. It is a deeply ingrained custom. Those that didn't dare set off fireworks banged on drums and cymbals.

The first visitor of the new year signifies what kind of luck the coming year will bring. For this reason you will probably be invited to family homes (foreigners universally mean wealth). Dress well and enjoy.

Holiday of the Dead (Month 3, Day 5)
Graveyards will be crowded as families pay their respects to the ancestors. They clean up the grave and make traditional offerings. This is seen as a happy time, not a day of mourning.

Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment, and Death (Month 4, Day 8)
Pagodas and temples will light up with paper lanterns, incense, and other decorations. Processions take place after dark.

Summer Solstice (Month 5, Day 5)
Offerings are made to the God of Death and his emissaries.

Wandering Souls Day (Month 7, Day 15)
Offerings are made to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead. Included in this group are those who are buried in unknown locations. Because so many Vietnamese soldiers were buried in mass unmarked graves, many families are personally involved with this holiday. (excerpt old woman)

Mid-Autumn Festival (Month 8, Day 15)
The children make lovely paper lanterns in all sorts of shapes (dragons, rabbits, etc.) and carry them down to the water, where they are released to float away. Moon cakes and lotus seeds also figure prominently.
Feb. 3 Anniversary of the founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (1930)

April 30 Liberation Day (anniversary of the liberation of South Vietnam, 1975))

May 1 International Worker's Day

May 19 Ho Chi Minh's Birthday (1890)

Sept. 2 National Day (anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh in 1945)

Dec. 25 (Christmas)

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