I love being in a country when a holiday occurs. It is so fun learning about their customs and traditions that everyone participates in. Tet, or the Lunar New Year, is pretty much the biggest celebration throughout Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. This year, it
coincides with the chinese new year, which is the year of the dog. They are usually around the same time.
basically the whole country shuts down from anywhere from a few days to two weeks. government offices, shops, restaurants, and everything in between closes. it's a time for visiting with family and doing what you can to ensure blessings as the new year starts.
for about 12 days, there are customs such as cleaning your house top to bottom, painting and doing maintenance on your home, giving gifts of cash to young children, tipping your helpers/cleaners an extra month of their salary, and on new year's day, making as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits. the first person to cross your threshold in the new year is supposed to be someone who is lucky and will bring good fortune to your family for the following year. it's an honor if you're chosen to be the first person to enter someone's home.
there is definitely an increase in petty theft and pickpocketing right before tet because more money is needed to give gifts and prepare your household for the upcoming holiday. Either you will be the one having all your relatives over, or you have to pay for transportation and offerings to whoever in your family is hosting the holiday.
it was fantastic being in the country to learn all these little tidbits and see everyone decorate and get excited for the holiday. i stayed in saigon for the week of tet, and the whole city became a ghost town as most locals that live here go out to the countryside to their relative's homes to celebrate. this is also a time that a lot of foreigners decide to take vacations since it's so quiet here. unfortunately, a few expats that are on forums i am on were upset at how few places there were to go to eat or go shopping. everyone was given plenty of notice by people who have been here for a while that is such a big time of the year for vietnamese and to plan accordingly. i stocked up on food and prepared to lay low for a week. i thought it was lovely! it was great time to reflect and enjoy the quiet.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!! (or happy new year!)
Danielle Desnoyers is a traveling freelance photographer with a focus on humanitarian, travel, and family photography. She currently splits her time between the United States and Vietnam with travels to other countries as well.