What is life like during Tet?

This will be my first experience with life during Tet. How should I prepare? What will be in short supply or unavailable? Can you post examples of what you've learned the hard way? How do you cope? What are the upsides?

Depends where you are and who you are with. Some shops close for just a few days, the 24hr shops will still be open.

I can only say that practically all retaurants and shops in the rather expatriate-free street Quoc Huong in Thao Dien were closed for one week.

If this was also the case in the more expat-populated street Duong Thao Dien I can't say.  Even BigC in Thao Den had closed for 2-3 days.

The small shops like City-Market or 7eleven should be open all the time.

I did not notice that there were sold out products shortly before Tet.

But to give you a dimension, my wife's mother always cooks non-perishable food for a week just before Tet, because everything is closed during Tet.

But we didn't do this and still didn't starve.  Only we had to drive longer to find an open restaurant or found something to cook in a shop like city market.

Another supplement:
The Tet Week is a good time to ride a motorcycle or car for the first time in HCMC, as the traffic chaos is noticeably smaller during the Tet Week.

Buy food ahead of time and plan your meals.  If you're staying with a Vietnamese family, they'll start getting everything ready right after Cúng/Đưa Ông Táo Về Trời (Sending the Kitchen Guardians Home) on 23/12 lunar calendar or Jan 28 this year.

Street markets will close from the afternoon of Giao Thừa (Feb 4).  Some vendors will open for half a day on mồng 4 Tết (Feb 8) because that's the first good day after 3 days of Tết to open business, others will close until Feb 11. 

Most supermarkets will close at noon on Feb 4 and open again on Feb 8 or 9. 

Nothing will be in short supply or unavailable, but if you hanker for a certain special food, order 3 or 4 days before Tết. 

If you're going to be completely immersed, pay attention to the many Tết customs, with Xông Nhà (First Footer) the most important of all.

Wow, Thanks all. That's a great help.  In America, this would be a preparation event. The Viets take it in stride.
Now I know the true function of the banh Tet.

Jim-Minh :

Wow, Thanks all. That's a great help.  In America, this would be a preparation event. The Viets take it in stride.
Now I know the true function of the banh Tet.

Preparation, unknown concept in VN.

It clicks if you remove the "sh"

..It happens...      :shy

In America, there would a run on the stores.

The shelves would be picked clean, like an ice storm in Dallas.

Try and get around to have a look at the garden displays, they are very well done. In the smaller cities they go all-out with lights decorating the streets.

I'll bet Da Lat is especially well done.

On Jan 28, keep your eye out for goldfish being released into a river/canal near you.  Each individual family releases only a few fish but businesses do it by the bucket full.  Gold or red fish are the vehicle on which the Kitchen Guardians (one woman and her two husbands) ride to deliver their year end report to Ngọc Hoàng (Supreme King).

You should be aware that although there are about 10 days off as Ciambella mentions above, there are "3 days of Tết". The key thing is to know when those three days are, which differs each year as the timing is based on the lunar calendar. This year those days seem to be Feb 04 to 06(?).

street markets will close from the afternoon of Giao Thừa (Feb 4).  Some vendors will open for half a day on mồng 4 Tết (Feb 8) because that's the first good day after 3 days of Tết to open business

Can you please clarify exactly which days will be the "3 days of Tết" when nearly everything is closed? Is it actually 5, 6 and 7? Thanks much.

Anyway, the main point is that in the days at the start everyone is traveling to their hometown and afterwards people have time off to relax and travel a bit. Vung Tau, for example, will be packed. If you live there, it's a good idea to go to HCMC, which is nearly deserted. The last day (Sunday, Feb 10?) will feature a mass return back to the cities.

Some people, Vietnamese included, choose to travel abroad at this time.

Surprised no one has mentioned the rise in prices in general and Tet surcharges at some cafes and restaurants. In conclusion, just stock up on whatever you really need for those 3 or 4 days in the middle.

johnross23 :

Can you please clarify exactly which days will be the "3 days of Tết" when nearly everything is closed? Thanks much.

The Three Days of Tết are the first 3 days of January on lunar calendar. 

Traditional Tết observation, however, is called Seven Days of Tết.

In reality, Tết starts on the last day of the year (either 29 or 30 of December, depending on the year).  On that day, two meals are cooked for midnight offerings: inside offering to ancestors, and outside offering to all the souls in Heavens, Earth, Hades, and the grey world in between.

That day is called 30 (or 29) Tết in addition to Giao Thừa (New Year's Eve).

The Seven Days of Tết extends all the way until the 7th (or 6th if you count 30 Tết as the first day of celebration)..  On that day, the ceremony of Hạ Cây Nêu (Lowering the New Year Pole) is performed on village/town square to indicate that Tết is over and all businesses should begin anew. 

This year, the Three Days of Tết are Feb 5, 6, and 7 (Tues, Wed, and Thurs).  The Seven Days of Tết are Mon, Feb 4 - Sun, Feb 10,  or Tues, Feb 5 - Mon, Feb 11.  I think the former is more likely to happen than the latter.

Many businesses in Saigon were closed for 7 days last year because they observed the Seven Days of Tết tradition.

This year, the government gives workers 9 days off including weekends (Sat, Feb 2 - Sun, Feb 10) so the chance that businesses be closed for 7 days is high, I would say.

BTW, Tết is Vietnamese New Year, and Vietnamese New Year is not the same as Chinese New Year.  I don't think anyone on this forum would switch those two terms willy-nilly, but a great many other people who live elsewhere do.

Yes, the concept is the same in both countries, the same way the concept of solar New Year is the same in most of Europe, all of Americas, Australia/Oceania, and many parts of Asia (I'm ignorant about Africa.)  In spite of that, solar New Year is called New Year, no country's name is attached to it.

When it comes to lunar New Year, however, "Happy Chinese New Year" is often a greeting from  Westerners to Vietnamese during Tết, especially in the US.  Very bizarre.

One important fact:  Tết doesn't always happen at the same time as Chinese New Year because of two reasons:

1/ The time zone in Vietnam is GMT+7 while it's GMT+8 in China. 

2/ That one hour difference, when being calculated together with the numbers of days in a lunar calendar (354 days for 2 years and then 332 days and a leap month on the 3rd year), brings about this result:  The day of the week, the date of the month, and the month of the year are always different between Vietnam and China, sometimes vastly different.  (It's very confusing, I know.  I've had problems explaining that to people all my life.)

Thus, except for a few years during the period between 1960 and 1975 when Vietnam was in the same time zone with China, Chinese New Year always happens after Tết already begins, and sometimes, ends.  The difference can be hours, days, or a whole month.

IIRC, in 1985, the first day of Tết was on Jan 21.  Chinese New Year didn't happen until 30 days later, on Feb 20.  I wonder whether anyone said "Happy Chinese New Year" to a Vietnamese during Tết that year.

Thank You, Ciambella

This is the stuff we need to know!      :thanks:

Thanks so much for the great explanations. It shouldn't surprise me at the complexity of the event, but it does. Enjoyed it.
Ciambella especially did a remarkable job.

Ciambella :

On Jan 28, keep your eye out for goldfish being released into a river/canal near you.  Each individual family releases only a few fish but businesses do it by the bucket full.  Gold or red fish are the vehicle on which the Kitchen Guardians (one woman and her two husbands) ride to deliver their year end report to Ngọc Hoàng (Supreme King).

On the advice of my wife's mother (as always  :) ), we dumped young fish into a river.  But they were normal fish and not goldfish.  I don't remember the date, but it had nothing to do with Tet.  I think it had something to do with the forthcoming birth.

Life in a foreign country is much improved with a local guide.

If find that @Ciambella is to Vietnam expat.com
as my Vietnamese wife is to me.

Guide-wise.  :top:

Andy Passenger :

On the advice of my wife's mother (as always  :) ), we dumped young fish into a river.  But they were normal fish and not goldfish.  I don't remember the date, but it had nothing to do with Tet.  I think it had something to do with the forthcoming birth.

Red carp is specifically released on Dec 23 (lunar) as part of Sending the Kitchen Guardians to the Heavens ceremony. 

The two major dates for other mass release are Tết Thượng Nguyên (Lantern Festival or First Full Moon, Jan 15 lunar) and Lễ Vu  Lan (Ghost Festival or Filial Day, July 15 lunar).  Outside of those dates, you can release living creatures (birds, fish, turtle* -- doesn't matter the species or colour, as long as they're not your own pets) anytime as an element of prayers and wishes.

The most common goals connecting with the general/individual release are:  safe birth; physical health; longevity; inner peace;  business development; avoidance of disasters and accidents; letting go of toxic emotions.

* except red-eared slider (turtle) because it's an invasive species

More detail.

Tết is actually a vietnamese word for festival/feast.  It is used as the default for Tết Nguyên Đán or "Feast of the First Morning of the First Day".  Vietnam was originally on the lunar calendar (âm lịch).

When referring to Western New Year's the words used are tết tây (western new year) or tết dương lịch (solar new year).

I myself use "Lunar New Year".  Interestingly enough, the chinese actually use the phrase "spring festival" so the phrase "Chinese New Year" started as another Western thing.  *cough* fortune cookie *cough*

Another thing to keep in mind is that Tết is the biggest holiday in Vietnam, on the scale of Christmas in the US so references to Tết can refer to the specific day of New Year's, the week or maybe even the season.

Another quirk, the traditional greetings during Tết are "Chúc Mừng Năm Mới" (Happy New Year) and "Cung Chúc Tân Xuân" (gracious wishes of the new spring) which doesn't use the word Tết at all.  Which makes sense.

Even though there's a good reason has anyone noticed how ironic it is that the spring/new years festival for Vietnam and China is based on the lunar instead of solar calendar?

If case you want to be confused more, the words "âm" and "dương" actually are the vietnamese equivalent of yin-yang so while it can be used to form a lunar/solar reference it actually means much more.

And for giggles and grins, Dalat has a festival at the end of some years called Festival Hoa which means Flower Festival.

Back to answering the question about what to expect during Tet.

I'm a American born Vietnamese.  Last year was my first Tet in Vietnam.  I stayed with my uncle in HCM.

The week leading up to Tet a bunch of flowers (traditionally apricot and peach) start showing up.  Because Tet is the biggest holiday and family holiday and a lot of people work in the city away from home Tet is the time of the year where people buy a bunch of things and run back to their hometown.

The more well off, but smaller families leave for vacation during Tet now.

NY's eve we went around to look at some places they had set up.  Not that crowded.

The morning of NY's the streets were empty.  Big change from a normal day.   With one cousin and her family found some Pho at double the price and then we went to Nguyen Hue that's set up with flowers.  We arrived late (after 8am) so it started to get packed real fast).

My other cousin and her family actually left the 1st to go to her husband's hometown so it was just me, my uncle (her father) and aunt (her mother) afterwards.   As mentioned, non-perisable food was prepared ahead of time.  Because my uncle is higher up the ranking tier most relatives came to visit him at his house.  There's the giving out of red envelopes, etc.  We also visited a handful of families back.

The 3rd I went over to my maternal grandmother's family's side to celebrate with a family meal.   On that day the streets start to get crowed again because people can only stand so much of their family so they start running back to HCM.

videriant :

Another quirk, the traditional greetings during Tết are "Chúc Mừng Năm Mới" (Happy New Year) and "Cung Chúc Tân Xuân" (gracious wishes of the new spring) which doesn't use the word Tết at all.  Which makes sense.

The word Tết is not in the formal greetings, but the act of greeting is called "chúc Tết", the speeches are called "lời chúc Tết" or "câu chúc Tết", the duty of going from family to family to greet the New Year is called "đi chúc Tết", the gifts are called "món quà Tết", the parallel sentences on the red scrolls are called "câu đối Tết", and the worship ceremony is called "cúng Tết".  ;)

We're out of Sai Gon for TET !!!    Way back, spent my first TET, in Sai Gon, by myself.
NEVER seen the city roads get so quiet - sometimes almost traffic free !!!
My 'Better Half' left me with notes for things I might want, such as food or drinks -
in both English and Viet - so no real problems at all - - - 
Spent a lot of the time just riding around the city - trying to work out where I was -
USUALLY lost !!!!   But the helpful locals, as always showed me on my tourist map where I was and the best way to get where I wanted to go.
It was just a bit lonely without her - - that's about all.

Very important - go to the bank now and get some unused banknotes (lucky money) - 50,000 or 100,000 and stick them in those red envelopes that are everywhere.

Give them out to any kids you have had contact with, or kids of parents who you want to impress.

and some other stuff not mentioned -
visiting pagodas
cleaning and non-cleaning of the house
paying debts

I TAKE M-in-L  and Grand Parents, with wife, to pagodas and to temple first thing.

then -

LUCKY MONEY !!!!   

NEW, UNUSED BANK NOTES (US DOLLARS - BUT MAYBE NOT SO LEGAL THESE DAYS)

'LUCKY MONEY IN RED ENVELOPES - GIVEN TO GRAND PARENT AND TO  PARENTS ASSIGN OF RESPECT.

ALSO GIVEN TO KIDS FOR THEIR HAPPINESS

Whenever I am in the US - I go to a bank and get new $2 dollar bills, they are the most unique bills in US currency and we give them to all our friends............red envelopes, can be bought in any mom & poop store - I have friends that have about 20 years worth of $2 bills................They can't be spent in Vietnam and I tell them their grandchildren will like them - by then, they will be collectors items.

Consider how lucky you are !!!    :cool:
In other countries, we can't even get our hands on new US $2 bills at all !!!    :sosad:
Most of the time we are really pushing to even get any condition US $2 bill at all.   :mad:
And, of course by tradition, in Viet  Nam, the US $2 bill is considered to be a sign, or symbol of good luck - so being able to give them away to family members really does have a special meaning !   :par:

This will be my first time to celebrate TET also, have no idea what to do, all my local friends will be going home to their hometowns, I was trying to book a ticket to fly DaLat but the fee is really expensive. Now, still wonderinf what to do, haizz, i will try to search interesting things I might do during those free days.

colinoscapee :

Try and get around to have a look at the garden displays, they are very well done. In the smaller cities they go all-out with lights decorating the streets.

How do they manage that with no preparation?

Wxx3 :
colinoscapee :

Try and get around to have a look at the garden displays, they are very well done. In the smaller cities they go all-out with lights decorating the streets.

How do they manage that with no preparation?

Lots of manpower and hours.  :cool:

I have sat across the road in the park and watched them do it, it's quite comical. :D

tunnelrat69 :

Whenever I am in the US - I go to a bank and get new $2 dollar bill

Yeah even at a small bank in a small town in Calif, I got 50 new ones.  Jeffersons are in circulation, but banks don't give them out unless you ask. Same with $1 coins.

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