| Dominik Osele

Tradition and meaning: The Tet Festival in Vietnam 2024

On February 10, 2024, the time has come. With the Tet Festival, Vietnam says goodbye to the Year of the Cat and welcomes the Year of the Dragon. Deeply rooted in the country's history and values, Tết Nguyên Đán or "First Morning Festival" represents not only the beginning of a new year according to the lunar calendar, but also a time of renewal, family and honoring ancestors. In this and the following blog article, we will explore the different facets of the Tet Festival, from its historical roots to the unique customs that make it an incomparable experience.

The History of the Tet Festival (Tết Nguyên Đán)

Tet, also known as the "First Morning Festival" or "New Year's Festival", marks the first day of the lunar calendar and is the most important festival in Vietnam. Its origins can be traced back far into Vietnamese history. In a time when agriculture determined the rhythm of life, Tet was a pause that symbolized the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year.

Traditionally, Tet is a time to pay respect to ancestors. In many Vietnamese homes, you will find altars dedicated to ancestors, where special rituals are held during Tet. These practices reflect the deep respect that Vietnamese people feel for their ancestors and emphasize the importance of family ties.

Tet is also a time for family reunions. Family members scattered across the country or even the world return home to celebrate together. This reunion is a central part of the Tet festival, strengthening and renewing family circles.

What is the importance of the Tet Festival in Vietnam?

Tet is not only a New Year celebration, but also the highest and most important holiday in Vietnam. During the Tet holidays, which officially last three to five days but are often extended to 1-2 weeks, the country is transformed. Public life seems to almost stand still, shops, government offices and even some transport services close during this time to allow their employees to travel to their families in the countryside.

The Tet holiday has a profound impact on the entire country. Even airports and ports significantly reduce their activities, and travel within the country can be difficult during this time. The period before and after Tet is also marked by a massive wave of travel, as many Vietnamese travel to visit their families and then return to their places of work. As a result, flights and trains are often overbooked as people travel in large numbers to spend the festival with their loved ones.

How does the Tet festival take place in Vietnam?

The Tet festival in Vietnam is an event full of color and deep traditions, the preparations for which begin months in advance and unfold in different phases: Tất Niên, Giao Thừa and Tân Niên.

No thanks – Preparations for the festival

Long before the actual festival, people start preparing. They pay off debts to start the new year debt-free, buy new clothes for their children and stock up on supplies. In the days leading up to Tet, markets and shops fill up with people buying food, drinks, clothing and New Year decorations. Houses are thoroughly cleaned, often even repainted, and festively decorated with flowers such as yellow apricot blossoms or pink peach blossoms, as well as New Year trees. Family members who live far from home return home if possible to celebrate the festival with their loved ones.

Giao Thừa – New Year’s Eve

On the eve of Tet, the apartments and houses are carefully cleaned and decorated once again. At midnight, many families light fireworks, despite the official ban. This tradition serves to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new one.

Tân Niên – New Year’s Day

On the first day of the New Year, the streets in the big cities are usually deserted. Children wear new clothes and send their New Year greetings to their elders, after which they are given red envelopes containing money. The belief that the first visitor of the year influences the family's luck is particularly important. That is why the Vietnamese never enter a stranger's house on the first day without an invitation. The first days of the new year are marked by visits to relatives and friends as well as visits to temples to donate money or have their future predicted.

The Chinese lunar calendar and its significance for Tet

The Tet festival is determined according to the Chinese lunar calendar, which plays a central role in determining the date for the Vietnamese New Year. This calendar is a so-called Lunisolar calendar , which means that it is based on both the phases of the moon and the sun. Unlike a pure lunar calendar, which only takes the phases of the moon into account, the lunisolar calendar allows for a closer connection to the seasons and thus also to the Gregorian calendar. The calendar combines the phases of the moon, which define the months, with the solstice, which structures the year. Due to this combination, the dates of the Tet festival can vary from year to year, but usually remain between late January and mid-February.

In 2024, the year of the dragon, Tet falls on February 10. The dragon is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac and has a special significance in Vietnamese culture. Vietnam is often called the “Land of the Dragon,” a metaphor that underlines its historical and cultural identity.

The connection to the dragon can be found in many Vietnamese legends and myths. One of the most famous is the legend that says that Halong Bay was created by a diving dragon. The dragon spat pearls into the sea to destroy foreign ships. These pearls turned into small islands and the bay was named “Halong Bay”, which translates as “the bay of the descending dragon”.


Zodiac signs and elements in the Vietnamese context

The zodiac signs and elements play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Vietnam, especially in the context of the Tet festival. Although they have many similarities with the Chinese system, there are significant differences and peculiarities in the Vietnamese context.

While the Chinese and Vietnamese zodiacs are fundamentally similar and both include twelve animals, there are some distinguishing features. For example, the water buffalo zodiac sign in the Vietnamese calendar replaces the ox in the Chinese calendar. These differences are not always 100% historically understandable, but probably reflect the respective cultural and geographical peculiarities.

In Vietnam, each year is associated not only with a zodiac sign, but also with one of the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire and earth). These elements, known as celestial stems, are part of a complex system based on the interaction between the different elements. The combination of a zodiac sign with an element results in a specific year with its own characteristics and predictions for the coming year.

For the year 2024 the following results: Year of the Dragon in the Element of Wood . In 2024, the year of the dragon, the element of wood will be the predominant element. This combination symbolizes growth, strength and vitality. The dragon, a symbol of power and luck, combined with the element of wood promises a year full of energy and progress.

Differences between Tet Festival and Chinese New Year

Although the Tet festival in Vietnam and the Chinese New Year (CNY) are both based on the Chinese lunar calendar and have many similarities, there are some differences that set these two festivals apart.

Cultural and traditional differences

While some traditions and customs are similar, such as gathering family and exchanging red envelopes (Lì Xì), each festival reflects the unique cultural values ​​and traditions of its country. In Vietnam, for example, great importance is placed on remembering and honoring ancestors, which is reflected in special rituals and practices during the Tet festival.

Celebrations and atmosphere

The way the festivals are celebrated also differs. In Vietnam, the Tet festival has a deeper, often more spiritual dimension, while the Chinese New Year is more focused on joyful gatherings and celebrating new beginnings.

Influence on public life

Another significant difference is the impact on public life. In Vietnam, public life almost comes to a standstill during Tet, which underlines the profound significance of this festival for the Vietnamese people. In contrast, in China, although the New Year is also very important, public life remains more active and less dominated by the festivities.

What makes the Tet festival so special?

Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, is more than just an annual celebration; it is a deeply rooted part of Vietnamese culture and identity. In Vietnam, Tet embodies a moment of calm, reflection and family bonding that stands out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is a time when the entire country slows down to honor the past, celebrate present happiness and find hope for the future. These traditions are not only meaningful to the Vietnamese themselves, but also provide a fascinating glimpse into a rich and diverse culture for people from all over the world.

With the Tet Festival, Vietnam not only celebrates the beginning of a new year, but also the ongoing renewal of its cultural heritage. This celebration reflects the deep connection of the Vietnamese with their history, their ancestors and their community - a connection that shapes and strengthens the country and its people.

FAQ – Questions and answers about Tet Festival 2024


When will the Tet Festival 2024 take place?

In 2024, Tet falls on February 10th. Since the festival is determined according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the date varies from year to year. 2024 is the year of the dragon in the Vietnamese calendar, which gives the festival a special meaning.

What is the Tet Festival and why is it so important in Vietnam?

Tet, also known as Tết Nguyên Đán, is the Vietnamese New Year and marks the beginning of the new year according to the lunar calendar. It is the most important festival in Vietnam as it is a time of family, remembering ancestors and new beginnings. Tet is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture and reflects the country's values ​​and traditions.

How is the date for the Tet festival determined?

The date of the Tet festival is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar and usually falls between late January and mid-February. The calendar is a lunisolar calendar that takes into account both the phases of the moon and the solstices, which means the Tet date shifts every year.

What does the Year of the Dragon symbolize in the Vietnamese calendar?

The year of the dragon, one of the twelve animals of the Vietnamese zodiac, symbolizes power, luck and strength. Combined with one of the five elements, such as wood in 2024, each year takes on special characteristics. The dragon is a particularly revered symbol in Vietnam, associated with legends and cultural significance.

How is Tet different from Chinese New Year?

Although both festivals are based on the lunar calendar, they differ in their traditions and customs. Tet is more focused on family gatherings, commemoration of ancestors and spiritual aspects, while Chinese New Year is more focused on joyful celebrations and new beginnings. The impact on public life and the nature of the celebrations also differ in both cultures.