Tết (Chinese New Year)

Tet (aka Chinese New Year)

Last night I enjoy the celebration of Tết from the middle of Hoàn Kiếm Lake (aka Lake of the Returned/Restored Sword) at Đền Ngọc Sơn (aka Temple of the Jade Mountain).

Today, I’m going to share my experience and thoughts about this incredible holiday.

Tết Nguyên Đán (節元旦)

Tết (aka Chinese New Year) follows the lunar calendar and celebrates the arrival of spring. It occurs sometime between January and February, depending entirely on the mood of the moon.

Many Vietnamese (and Chinese) practice various traditions during this special time of year. For example, Vietnamese (and Chinese) people will…

  • Clean the entire house and remove every speck of dirt (I think they go as far as to use microscopes).
  • Give little red envelopes to children and the elderly (also to prospective lovers to try and buy their favor before the coming of Valentine’s day… at least… that’s what I would do…).
  • Host family gatherings and eat a feast (note to Westerners: they bring the ENTIRE family — aunts, uncles, cousins, long-lost relatives, all blood ties, liked or unliked).
  • Visit temples to worship Buddha and other deities (they also give money and burn incense and bless food).
  • Contribute to global warming by burning heaps of plastic and fake paper money to give their dead relatives cash for the after life (from what I was told by friends in Taiwan, they burn this cash so that those in hell can pay for their sins — please correct me if I’m wrong…).
  • Pay off all debts and, if prosperity favors, open a new business (I definitely missed my business opportunity this year).
  • Watch fireworks for 20 to 30 minutes (you seriously have to come Visit Vietnam or China to experience this — they put the “regular” New Year to Shame).

One crucial point to remember is that…

This is the most important celebration in Vietnam (and China).

But, why?

Importance of Tết (aka Chinese New Year)

Chinese New Year started 3 800 years ago during the Shang dynasty. Without going to deep into the history, this holiday has become a vital time for hard-working people to take time off their over-worked lives to visit family and loved ones.

This overdue break from the never ending demands of labor has become a time to pray for blessings, good luck for the coming year, and earnest hopes to work less while earning more.

From my point of view, since this holiday is based on an “agrarian” or farming calendar, it makes sense to take a break between seasons. You look back on the history of a year, analyze the success of the previous harvest, and get the people hearty and happy for another season of planting rice.

Truth be told, I couldn’t find many sources with accurate information about why the Vietnamese people adopted a Chinese holiday.

If anyone knows, please help fill the gap in this thought/experience piece (i.e. leave a comment below). If not, I’ll share my ideas which may or may not be right or wrong.

Tết vs. Chinese New Year

According to this Quora responder, Tết and Chinese New Year are “the same thing. Any Vietnamese who tries to tell you that they’re different is just too stubborn to accept the truth.


Let’s take a different angle, shall we?

The world was a fragmented place many, many years ago. The borders we know and love today were not the same years and years ago.

What happened to Yugoslavia? Where did the Romans go? Why did all “us tribes people stop wearing loin clothes and start wearing suits? Hello Israel, where did you come from?

Deep, huh? Anyway, let’s get back to Asia…

China experienced significant instability and struggle over thousands of years before they could be called a collective nation. In fact, they were even invaded by the might Mongols and have had foreign influences that shaped and shifted and changed to course of their “destiny”.

The Japanese, for example, are a by-product of Chinese migration. Well, that’s how I see it. But, please don’t let my Japanese friends know I wrote that.

Now, I know I’m playing with a loose and unfounded argument, but these are my thoughts and experiences. I just think that many cultures and people in the South East Asian region were bumping into to each other and exchanging itty bitty pieces of themselves upon impact. Some things stayed. Other things were thrown away (or burned or executed and so on).

As pockets of people grow to become forces of power, they tend to focus on profit and production.

The weak and the unwilling… well… adapt or die… that’s what Darwin taught me…

I know, I know. We don’t like to be associated with other “peoples” because of the history and the horror and the inhumane acts that those such people performed.

As a Canadian, I attest that the raping and pillaging of the Native nations is an unfortunate yet unchangeable timeline in our world history.

Perhaps, my European ancestors took a blade to an Aboriginal’s throats. In contrast, they could have believers that the Aboriginals were savages and had their villages raided and their scalps chopped off.

I know. I know. History reminds us of the horrible things we, as people, can do to other people. Some of these things are still happening today. Arguably, it’s going to happen again tomorrow.

Is there anything we can do about it?

Geez, Jef. I don’t know.

I only know that the powers that control aspects of our lives, in one way or another, try to stamp and seal us with a Nationalistic pride which can be good and can be bad.

There’s nothing wrong with having thoughts, feelings, and experiences that revolve around race, religion, and region. Where else do we derive our sense of identity?

Does any of this even matter?

I digress…

I have had the privilege to celebrate numerous festivals and cultural ceremonies throughout my travels around the world. I personally have a deep appreciation and respect for the differences that shape each and every person on the planet.

If not, this crazy thing called life wouldn’t be so exciting if everyone followed the same belief or thought processes. Imagine a world where everyone followed Islam or Kim Jong-Un?

If that ever happened, we wouldn’t have the wonderful world we know and enjoy today. And, both Tết and Chinese New Year wouldn’t be here at all.

Unless… China took over the world!

Once again, I digress…

Jef van de Graaf
Canadian Copywriter & World Traveler
Business | Travel Blog | Connect


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