Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners

Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners

by tonytran2015 (Melbourne, Australia).

Click here for a full, up to date ORIGINAL ARTICLE and to help fighting the stealing of readers’ traffic.

(Blog No.110).

#Lunar New Year, #Tết Nguyên Đán , #Tết Nguyên Tiêu, #Lunar Calendar, #Festival, #activities, #custom, #survival,

Vietnamese (Lunar) New Year Custom for Westerners.

To many Western and Vietnamese people, it is hard to tell when East Asian Lunar New Year (“Tết Âm Lịch” in Vietnamese) will come. To add to the confusion there are also different New Year days for its neighboring East Asian countries like China, Korea, etc… When the Festival comes they are again surprised at the activities or inactivity! This blog helps them understand the festival and know the custom to plan their activities to avoid any inconvenience.

In short description, the traditional New Year Festival (“Tet” in Vietnamese) is a period of long holidays and prolonged shut downs of normal trading. The details are explained in the following.

1. When is a Vietnamese New Year Day?

Figure: Moon phases.

The first new Lunar month after Winter Solstice is always named the Final Month (“tháng Chạp” in Vietnamese; the name may come (?) from the word “tháng LẬP Đông”). The end of that month is the Lunar New Year. Neighboring Asian countries (China, Korea) all use this rule but the New Year day of each country may differ by one day or sometimes one month due to their different time zones [1].

All months here denote Lunar months unless otherwise specified. Month are name Month 1 to Final Month and there may be 13 months in a Lunar Year with the Leap Month bearing the name of its preceding Month appended with the word “Leap”.

Note that the Final Month may be either a 12th month in a non-leap or a 13th month in a leap year.

2. What are the Vietnamese New Year Holidays?

Seafaring Vietnamese people finish their fishing activities before the stormy season (Stormy seanson in Central Vietnam extends over months 9,10,11 and Final month of Lunar Year.). Agricultural Vietnamese people in the countryside finish their harvest before Winter Solstice. So the Final month of a Lunar Year is ready to be a time for preparation or enjoyment of New Year Festival.

The Festival holidays may begin in the Final Month and continue through Month 1, 2, 3, 4 (“tháng Giêng, tháng 2 3, 4” in Vietnamese), If there is any leap month falling between Month 1 and Month 4 then the holidays are also extended by that extra month.

The popular quotes in Vietnamese is “Tháng Giêng là tháng ăn chơi, tháng Hai cờ bạc, tháng Ba hội hè”. It means First Month is for Enjoying Pleasures, Month 2 for Enjoying Gambling, Month 3 for Festivals, Carnivals, Meetings”

Agricultural people have to come back to their work on Lunar Month 4. Since Lunar Month 2 the sea becomes calm and fishermen can resume their work. Vietnamese fishermen are most busy when the star Arcturus Bootes is shining (Note that Arcturus Bootes is a star of the night on April 25th; it is called “Sao Một”, top ranked star, by Central Vietnamese people).

3. What are the activities in Vietnamese New Year Festivals.

a. Food and drinks are to be stored up to the brims of containers in each household (to make a wish of having prosperity for the coming New Year.). Food and drinks are supposed to be adequate for all requirements of the household for more than two months. “Tết” can also be considered a practice run for survival in disasters, for that Vietnam has had many).

The concept of “just in time” does not apply here. Prices are outrageously higher in some areas including Saigon (up to 10 times higher when buying from traders originating from Northern Vietnam)  in the month long New Year Festival period.

b. Most trading activities (including non-emergency transportation) are to cease from New Year Eve to the 10th day of First Month [5].

Everyone is provided with an opportunity to come back to his or her home town for Family Reunion. People already in their home town are also provided with a practice run for survival with reduced transportation and without trading.

Transportation people expect to be showered with 100% to 200% tips.

Example: During Tet Festival, economy class return air tickets by Vietnam Airlines from Melbourne to Saigon may cost AUD1500/person (too high?) while an economy class return air ticket on Thai Airway from Melbourne to Bangkok may cost only around AUD600/person.

So your own transportation is almost basic essential.

c. People from distant places may have additional holiday time to travel to their home town and back. Boat travelers may need encompassing full Moons to travel by rivers, canals to their home places.

d. All houses are to be cleaned up and decorated to celebrate the New Year. This activity commences early and does not end until New Year Eve. Houses and monuments are to be decorated with whole trees or cut branches of “cây mai” (Ochna integerrima or Ochna) which have been made to blossom flowers on the First day of New Year.

e. Food, preserved food and offerings are to be prepared to Festival days. Vietnamese food for New Year includes “bánh chưng” (steamed cooked loaf), “bánh dầy” (thick loaf), “bánh tét” (loaf that can only be cut by Splitting its wrapping made of banana leaves). “xôi vò” (rolled and squeezed sticky rice), “cơm rượu” (fermented cooked sticky rice) , “rượu đế” or “rượu nếp” (Vietnamese distilled alcoholic spirit made from fermented cooked sticky rice), “rượu nếp than” (Vietnamese distilled alcoholic spirit with the colour of charcoal, made from fermented cooked purple sticky rice). “tôm khô” (dried salted prawns), “khô mực” (dried salted squid), “củ kiệu ngâm dẩm” (pickled leek bulbs in vinegar).

f. Permanent Indoor Altars are to be decorated with white or red lilies (“hoa hụê” in Vietnamese). Incense and candles are to be lighted on altars.

Figure:Lilies from a Vietnamese stall in Melbourne at AUD 15/bundle.

Figure: Gladio Li from a Big W Supermarket in Melbourne at AUD 12.88/bundle.

Figure:Lilies from an Aldi Supermarket in Melbourne at AUD 4.99/bundle.

g. On the 23rd of Final Month, people have to make Farewell Ceremony for Three Inhouse Monitors from Heaven (“Hai Ông Một Bà Táo” in Vietnamese; they resides in the family earthenware stoves and have charred, blackened, faces). The three Inhouse Monitors from Heaven work similarly to real life Resident In-house Monitoring Agents of Ward Police (Ward Police = “Công An Phường” of current Socialist Vietnam; a ward is a subdivision of a district which, in turn, is a subdivision of a town or city). They leave the household riding 3 carps (not submarines!) to go to report to the Jade Supreme God of Heaven (“Ngọc-Hoàng Thượng-Đế”) of all the good and bad deeds of the household from the first day to 23rd day of final month of the preceeding Lunar Year.

i. Without the Three In-house Monitors from Heaven all activities in the household are now off-the-records!

j. Good-time boys and good-time girls now may do non-righteous things without worrying about having bad records made in Heaven. Some people from Northern Vietnam takes this off-the-record time to do  go out eating dogs!

k. On the last day of Final Month a temporary Altar have to be made and placed on top of an upright long pole for the Deceased Ancestors to reside (the assemblage is called “cây Nêu” in Vietnamese) and enjoy New Year celebration with their living descendants.

l. From Sunset to New Year Commencement at midnight, people have to make Welcome Ceremony for new Three In-house Monitors from Heaven (“Hai Ông Một Bà Táo” in Vietnamese). The new Three Monitors have been rotated by Heaven from some other household to ensure equality and impartiality.

m. All good and bad deeds from people in the household are from now observed and recorded again by new Three In-house Monitors until they in turn depart near the end of the current Lunar Year.

o. Incense and candles are to be lighted on the small Altar in the front yard for the Jade Supreme God of Heaven (“Ông Thiên” or “Ngọc-Hoàng Thượng-Đế”). This altar for the Supreme God does NOT have any statue, drawing and no more than the words “Môn-Khẫu Thiên-Địa” (The doorway to Heaven and Earth”).

p. Incense and candles are to be lighted on the small Altar on Ground Surface for the local Custodian God of the local Land (“Ông Địa”). People from North Vietnam now have the local Custodian God of the local Land sharing his altar with the White Eyebrow God (“Thần Bạch Mi”), the Patron God of Prostitutes.

Figure: Custodian God (having big fat belly) of the local Land sharing an altar with White Eyebrow God (having white eyebrows) . 

Note that the White Eyebrow God (“Thần Bạch Mi”) is totally different from the God of Lucks (“Thần Tài”), who rides a horse and wears an Imperial Court Administrative Official suit with WINGED Head Wear. The God of Lucks is usually depicted with a gold colour dress with black circular emblems, with the motto “Kim Ngọc Mãn Đường” -a court yard full of gold and precious jewels- ).
q. Midnight comes. This is the commencement of New Year. Trading (buying and selling) is a taboo for the next 72 hours. Higher prices are expected both before and after this 72 hours period.

r. New Year Celebration begins with detonation of fire crackers to scare away any bad spirits.

This is just like scaring away robbers and bandits during any change of guards.

Figure: Two Fire-crackers chains (in red colour) are hung from the ceiling to the ground. They are carefully guarded before they are burnt. 

Figure: Fire-crackers make crackling sounds and flashes. This Lion Dance is on the third day of New Year (2018Feb18z) in Sunshine, Victoria, Australia. Identical firecrackers are burnt in traditional Celebration at commencement of a Lunar New Year.


s. People make offerings to their ancestors at the indoor permanent altars for ancestors.

t. People go to Pagodas to break and take home (vandalize?) any of blossoming branches of “mai” trees there (“Hái lộc”).

u. First day of New Year is for Family reunion. Note that married women are considered family members of their husbands and not of their maiden family.

v. Second day of New Year is for Married Women to come back and reunite to their maiden families WITH their husbands and children.

w. Third day of New Year is for visit to former Teachers and people who brought/made working people to their current status.

x. Fourth day of New Year: People can enjoy their own chosen festival activities.

y. Seventh day of New Year: The temporary Altar (“Nêu” in Vietnamese) have to be dismantled and Deceased Ancestors are sent back to their Heavenly place.

Some shops may reopen on the Eighth day of New Year.

z. First Full Moon of New Year is “Hội Trăng Rằm” in Vietnamese (Carnival of Full Moon, “Tết Nguyên Tiêu” in Chinese written literature/history). People go to Pagodas to pray and make offering. Unmarried people go to the Carnivals of First Full Moon to select their matches (as described in the folk song of “Hát Hội Trăng Rằm”).

aa. New Year Festivals close. People relax to enter Month 2 for leisures.

Prices of good fall back to new levels which are not necessarily the old level. The high prices during the Festivals have been their stress-tests. Traders have evaluated supplies and demands during those tests and will confidently apply their new prices!

The popular quotes in Vietnamese is “Tháng Giêng là tháng ăn chơi, tháng Hai cờ bạc, tháng Ba hội hè”. It means First Month is for Enjoying Pleasures, Month 2 for Enjoying Gambling, Month 3 for Festivals, Carnivals, Meetings”



[1].  tonytran2015, When-is-lunar-new-year-khi-nao-la-tet-am-lich , posted on 2018 January 1st.

[2]. tonytran2015, Simple-determination-of-east-asia-lunisolar-new-year , posted on 2017 January 19th.




Added after 2018Feb19:



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Simple determination of East Asia lunisolar New Year

Simple determination of East Asia lunisolar New Year

by tonytran2015 (Melbourne, Australia).

Click here for a full, up to date ORIGINAL ARTICLE and to help fighting the stealing of readers’ traffic.

(Blog No.49).

#East Asia New Year, #lunar New Year, #lunar leap year, #lunar leap month, #lunisolar calendar, #Vietnamese New Year, #lunar calendar.

When traveling to or working with East Asia countries Westerners are sometimes puzzled by their Calendar and long New Year festivals which vary from year to year on the Western Calendar.

This blog gives simple explanation to Westerners the rules of East Asia Lunisolar calendar which is based on Celestial observations and has been designed to give season information to users.

To easily understand this article, readers are advised to first read the simple summary on stars in the sky [1] to know the declination, right ascension and the date of a star.

Simple calculations [2] shows that each lunar month is 29.530 days. Two lunar months has a length of 59.06 days. The lunisolar calendar used in China since ancient time has had Winter solstice falling on the 11th month of the year since more than 2000 years ago, since 113BC (Han Dynasty II p.38 [3]) .

The solstice point (the point from ecliptic most South of the celestial equator) is moving slowly in the sky and is currently opposite to 90 degree Right Ascension.

1. New Year time is just a convention.

A lunisolar year can be made to start at any of its seasonal point, the point can be in the Winter or in the Summer. It all comes to a matter of convention. For example, the Burmese lunisolar calendar has its New Years starting when the Sun enters the constellation Aries.

For East Asia lunisolar calendar making, there are two major alternatives for determining its New Years as in the following.

2. Simple rules.


Figure 1: Phase of the Moon. A new Moon is the Moon with a thin white crescent on its leading edge (top right corner of the picture) which is first visible right after sunset on the Western horizon.

If the calendar makers want their people to have simple and clear rule on the start of a New Year, they can define the New Year starting on the Second New Moon after Winter Solstice day.

This would be easy for ordinary people and people in remote areas to work out their two last (11th and 12th) lunar months of the year, and have enough time to prepare for the New Year festival.

3. Precision rules with uniform determination of months.


Figure: Inversion map of the Northern Celestial 3/4-sphere. The non-concentric circle is the ecliptic and winter solstice is its most distant point from the North pole (on the left of the North pole).

The Eastern Asia lunisolar Calendar requires each of its lunar month has a characteristic star in the sky to match with the seasons. There are 12 chosen characteristic stars. A lunar year has either 12 lunar months (normal year) or 13 lunar months (leap year). Any lunar month not containing any of those 12 chosen characteristic stars is called a leap month and is named after its preceding month.

Each Lunar month begins with a New Moon and ends before the next New Moon.

If the Calendar Makers insist on astronomical precision with uniform determination of months then they can define each month having to contain a star at regular spacing of Right Ascension, that is 11th month having some star of 90 degree R.A. on the meridian line at midnight on one night of the month and so on [4], [5].

Therefore they would require that

11th month has a star of 90 degree R.A.,
12th month has a star of 120 degree R.A.,
1st month has a star of 150 degree R.A., (Regulus of Leo has 152.05° R.A., 12° decl.)
2nd month has a star of 180 degree R.A.,
3rd month has a star of 210 degree R.A.,
4th month has a star of 240 degree R.A., (Delta Scorpii has 240.22° R.A., –22.60° decl.)
5th month has a star of 270 degree R.A.,
6th month has a star of 300 degree R.A., (Altair of Aql has 297.7° R.A., 8.85° decl.)
7th month has a star of 330 degree R.A.,
8th month has a star of 0 degree R.A.,
9th month has a star of 30 degree R.A.,
10th month has a star of 60 degree R.A.,

any month that has no star in the above list is called a leap month bearing the same name as its preceding non-leap month. Therefore it is hard for ordinary people to know the beginning of the Year.

4. Most probable choice.

I would think that the ancient Calendar makers chose the first alternative rather than the more difficult second alternative.

The second alternative also has an additional complication that there is a precession of Equinox at a rate of 360 degree per(approximately) 25,920 years. In 2000 years the Winter Solstice has moved by 27.7 degrees (about one month). Chines Calendar Makers would have noticed it and saw the need for adjustment had they chosen the second alternative but I could not find any literature about that kind of adjustment.

It is most likely that Chinese Calendar Makers had chosen the first alternative. Their choice may have had influence on Calendar Makers of neighboring countries.

If East Asian Calendar Makers chose the easy rules of for determining New Year day then the 1st month of any East Asian New Year would contain a star that has a date of 18 February(= 21 December + 59.06 days), 59.06 days after Winter Solstice. That would come to a simple rule for star watchers (for the current configuration of Earth orbit):
The New Year starts on the second new moon after Winter Solstice day and the first lunar month of the lunisolar calendar should have a star of 18 February (= 21 December + 59.06 days) of Right Ascension of nearly 152 degrees (near to that of Regulus of Leo) on its meridian at midnight.

The second through to the tenth months of the lunisolar calendar have been anchored to seasons by requiring each to have a star chosen as specified in section 3. If bright stars of approximate Right Ascensions are chosen instead, there would only be more or less leap months repeating the name of the preceding months. The choice of bright stars of approximate Right Ascensions may also have been influenced by superstition and politics.

It is common to find references to Festivals of First Full Moons of the years (Tết Nguyên Tiêu) in ancient Chinese historical texts but it is not easy to find references to Festivals of First New Moons ( Tết Nguyên Đán) in those ancient texts.


[1]. tonytran2015, Finding North and time by stars ,,

[2]. tonytran2015, Finding North direction and time accurately from the horn line of the Moon,,

[3]. Sima Qian, Records of History by the grand historian (translated by Burton Watson), Qin Dynasty, Han Dynasty I (Rev. Ed.) and Han Dynasty II (Rev. Ed.), the Res. Cent. for Transl. The Chinese Univ. of Hon Kong and Colubia Univ. Press, Hong Kong and New York, 1961. Han Dynasty II p.38 showed that in 113BC, month 11 has the solstice.

[4]. Helmer Aslaksen, The Mathematics of the Chinese Calendar,, accessed 19 Jan 2017.
[5]. Ho Ngoc Duc, Thuat toan am lich (in Vietnamese),, accessed 19 Jan 2017.

Added after 2018 April 06:

There are 24 nearly equally spaced, designated (by East Asian Astronomers) marker points on the Ecliptic called “Solar terms” in “Chinese English”. The position of the Sun relative to these markers tell its progress along the Ecliptic and the season in the year. Any leap month is inserted such that the Sun does not go far from its expected positions for the month [6].

star map mercatorx1p6

Figure: The wavy line in this Mercator map of the sky is the Ecliptic. The Sun travels on it. There are 24 marker points on this line used by East Asian Astronomers to quantify the position of the Sun on this line.

References (cont.)



Harvest-moon-festival-in-east-asian-calendar, posted September 29, 2017


Shadow stick navigation and graph of solar paths, posted August 19, 2016

Time-keeping-without-using-watches . Posted on September 17, 2017

Ground Mounted Star Disk

Finding directions and time using the Sun and a divider., posted on May 6, 2015. <<<—This is my MOST USEFUL novel technique.


find North by the Sun

Finding North and time by stars. Posted on August 28, 2015

, posted July 22, 2016


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