Chúc mừng năm mới! Notes on Lunar New Year in Vietnam

Happy Lunar New Year to anyone who celebrates it! Yesterday marked the lunar new year in Vietnam & Asia. Living in Hanoi, I get two new years every year: the 1st January (which is the new year that I celebrate, really, and then Tet (Lunar New Year, which is in late January or February). So, lucky me! January can be a bit of a trial month and then, now I’m in my groove a bit more, I can think about my intentions for the year (sort of joking, sort of not…)

Before moving to Vietnam, I have to admit, I thought of this as ‘Chinese New Year’, because that’s all I’d ever known this time as. Since living in Asia, I’ve realised how naive and ignorant that was. Lunar New Year has been traditionally celebrated in a whole host of east Asian countries, including Vietnam, Singapore, Korea and Japan. The celebrations do derive from the Chinese calendar, but it’s more inclusive to call this special time the Lunar New Year. “Tet” (Tết, or often written all in uppercase TET) is the shortened version of Tết Nguyên Đán, which means “Festival of the First Morning of the First Day”. This is the name for the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, so Tet and New Year are used quite interchangeably here. 

It’s been so lovely to be in Hanoi for the Tet holiday this year. I’ve always been told to leave the country for the Tet holiday since everywhere closes, but a combination of a coronavirus outbreak and saving money ready to move back home meant this fortnight off work was to be spent in Hanoi. 1 week in, I’m loving it! True, many businesses have closed to allow their workers time off to visit family and celebrate with their loved ones. Well deserved, too, since for many Vietnamese people, this is the only real time off all year! However, while most places have closed for at least a day or two, some have opened during the days of Tet.

This has led to a quieter city than we’re used to, which has been a real treat. Sometimes, I find Hanoi to be far busier than I’d like, and the busyness is part of what leads to the high pollution I’ve discussed a lot before. This week, a combination of many people leaving Hanoi to visit relatives in their hometowns and one long day of rain has resulted in some beautifully clear, fresh days. I’ve relished the opportunity to go for more peaceful lakeside walks, taking the longer route because I’ve had the time. My week’s been calm, the city has been calmer and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that.

The Tet decorations have lined the streets, Vietnam’s answer to Christmas trees (kumquat trees and cherry blossoms) have been proudly placed in porches, sold along pavements in their hundreds and strapped tightly onto the bags of motorbikes, their branches narrowly missing passersby. “Chúc mừng năm mới!” has been chanted and cheered alongside paying for a coffee. Children dressed in smart áo dàis skip merrily along, and hoards of people gather to visit the pagodas and pay their respects. There’s been a real joy in the air. I’m pleased to have witnessed it.

And though I won’t be celebrating Lunar New Year in Vietnam next year or in the future, as I’ll be back living in the UK, I think I will always have a soft spot for it. I’ll mark its date in some way, be that at a special event like a festival or firework display (once things are ‘normal’ again), or simply an east Asian takeaway or dinner, I’ll hold this as a special time. 

And so begins the year of the ox. Let’s hope it’s kind to us all xxx

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