News & Views

Holidays Around the World – Lunar New Year

Banh Chung and Banh Tet are traditional Vietnamese rice cakes made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork, and other ingredients. They are a meaningful gift to give to relatives and friends in the days before Tet.

Holidays Around the World!

Celebrate Lunar New Year with HIAS PA

As part of HIAS PA’s “Holidays Around the World” series, we are exploring holidays which are celebrated widely around the world, but which might not be as well-known in the United States. This month, Clementine, a HIAS PA client, is here to teach us about how her family celebrates Lunar New Year, also known as Tet, in Vietnam and in the US.

What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year, or Tet, is the beginning of the lunar calendar. It is usually celebrated between January 21st and February 19th of the Gregorian calendar, and it is the most important holiday in Vietnam. Lunar New Year is also celebrated in China and South Korea, along with countries with large Chinese populations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

How do you prepare for Tet?
During Tet, families come together to celebrate, eat, and pray for good luck together. In the week before the holiday begins, Vietnamese families will clean the kitchen and make offerings to see off the Kitchen God – also known as “Mr. Apple” – to heaven to report on the past year on Earth. We also clean our houses in order to eliminate anything bad from the old year and welcome the New Year with lots of fortune and luck. We also fill our houses with beautiful flowers.

On the last day of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese families often cook many typical dishes for Tet. We also burn incense and place a five-fruit tray on the altar of the ancestors in order to invite gods and ancestors to celebrate Tet with their families, and to pray for a new year of peace, luck, happiness, and wealth. Families also visit the graves of their loved ones.

Left: Clementine’s elders give li xi, also known as “lucky money”, in red or yellow envelopes to their younger family members, to wish them good luck.
Right: Clementine’s sister is pictured wearing a traditional ao dai dress. Women dress in ao dai to visit the temple and their relatives during Lunar New Year.

How do you celebrate the first day of the Lunar New Year?
The morning of the first day of the first lunar month is considered the most important day in the whole Tet holidays. All of my family members meet, dressed in ao dai, to exchange li xi, “lucky money”, and give their best wishes to grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. We go to the temple together to pray and eat a vegetarian meal. Some families eat and chat together at home instead.

How do people celebrate Tet in the United States?
In the weeks before Tet, Vietnamese markets in the US are crowded with people shopping. Although not as diverse as in Vietnam, they still sell Tet items and important things for the Lunar New Year.

Despite being in the US, my family tries to keep as many of the traditional Vietnamese New Year activities as we can in order to have a happy Tet atmosphere on New Year’s Eve.

We drink wine, display flowers and ornamental plants indoors, cook a lot of traditional dishes—including stuffed bitter melon soup and stewed pork with eggs—and give good wishes and lucky money to each other.

A traditional Tet meal

We are grateful to Clementine for sharing about the Lunar New Year!
Look out for next month’s “Holidays Around the World” and learn more about the holidays that hold great importance to the immigrants we serve.