Spring Festivals (Jan – Apr)
The Vietnamese New Year is known as ‘Tet’ which simply means festival. It is the most important annual event and is properly known as Tet Nguyen Dan or festival of the first day. Tet takes place on the first to seventh days of the first lunar month; late January to mid – February. It is a time when families meet to celebrate hope and renewal for the New Year as ancestral spirits are welcomed back to the household. It is also the time when everyone in Vietnam becomes a year older as age is reckoned by New Year not by individual birthdays.
Tet begins seven days before the new moon with the festival of Ong Tau, the god of the hearth. Ong Tau keeps watch over the household throughout the year, warding off evil spirits and makes an annual report of family events, good or bad to the Jade Emperor. The families clean their houses from top to bottom and offer money and new clothes to Ong Tau to send him to heaven in a compassionate mood. It is Ong Tau’s return, on the chime of midnight on New Year, as well as the welcoming of the ancestral spirits to share the party, that warrants such a massive celebration.
Tet is all about starting the year afresh with good intentions and a clean slate. The first minutes and hours of the New Year are therefore the most crucial as they set the pattern for the next year to come. As well as the houses being scrubbed, debts are paid and those who can afford it buy new clothes and have a haircut. People aim to avoid arguments, swearing or breaking anything especially through the first three days where an ill word could tempt bad luck in the house for the rest of the year.
The week – long festival is marked by feasting: special foods are eaten at Tet, such as pickled vegetables, candied lotus seeds and sugared fruits, all of which are offered at the family altar. Tet is an expensive time for Vietnamese families many of whom save for months to get the year off to a good start. Along with foods and new clothes it is traditional to give children red envelopes giving lucky money.
Tay Son Festival
Taking place on the fifth day of the first lunar month this festival lands between late January and mid – February. Martial art demonstrations are joined by garlanded elephants on parade in the Tay Son District.
Water – Puppet Festival
As part of the Tet celebrations, on the fifth to seventh days of the first lunar month which is February, a festival of puppetry is held at Thay Pagoda, west of Hanoi.
Lim Singing Festival
On the thirteenth to fifteenth days of the first lunar month, taking place two weeks after the Tet celebrations, Lim a village near Bac Ninh in the Red River Delta, resounds to the harmonies of ‘alternative singing’ (quan ho) as men and women fling improvised lyrics back and forth.
Hai Ba Trung Festival
A parade and dancing at Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung temple honour the two Trung sisters on the sixth day of the second lunar month; March.
Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims flock to Vietnam’s most famous pilgrimage site Chua Huong, a pagoda west of Hanoi. The festival climaxes on the full moon (fourteenth or fifteenth day) of the second month, though the pilgrimage continues for a month either side; March – April.
Den Ba Chua Kho
On the full moon of the second month, falling somewhere between March and April, Hanoians congregate at the temple near Bac Ninh to petition for success in business.
Summer Festivals (May – Aug)
To commemorate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and attainment of Nirvana lanterns are hung outside the pagodas and Buddhist homes. The festival takes place on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month of May.
Chua Xu Festival
On the twenty – third to the twenty – fifth day of the fourth lunar month of May the stone statue of Chua Xu at Sam Mountain, Chau Doc, is bathed and thousands flock to honour her.
Tet Doan Ngo
The summer solstice (fifth day of the fifth moon) is celebrated by festivities aimed at warding off epidemics brought by the summer heat. Dragon – boat races also mark this time between late May and early June.
Trang Nguyen otherwise known as Vu Lan is the second most important festival after Tet. Offerings of food and clothes are made to nourish and comfort the unfortunate ones who do not have a home as well as all graves are cleaned. This is also the time when the King of Hell judges everyone’s spirit and gives out rewards or punishments as appropriate. It is the time for forgiveness of faults which until the fifteenth century meant all prisoners were allowed to go home on this day.
Autumn Festivals (Sept – Dec)
Do Son Buffalo – fighting Festival
Celebrated on the ninth and tenth days of the eighth lunar month of August this festival is held in Do Son village near Hai Phong.
In September – October the Cham New Year is celebrated in style at Po Klong Garai and Po Re Me, both near Phan Rang.
This festival is also known as Children’s Day, celebrated in mid – autumn on the fourteenth or fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month; September – October. Dragon dances take place and children are given lanterns in the shape of stars, dragons or carp. Special cakes, banh trung thu, are eaten at this time of year. The cakes are made of sticky rice and are filled with nuts, lotus seeds and candied fruits. They are either round like the moon (banh nuong) and contain the yolk of an egg, or square like the earth (banh deo).
At the Lang Ca Ong and Vung Tau temples crowds gather to make offering to the whales on the sixteenth day of the eighth lunar month; September – October.
Oc Bom Boc Festival
On the tenth day of the tenth lunar month, between November and December, a boat – racing festival in Soc Trang takes place.
Da Lat Flower Festival
Taking place in December this annual extravaganza is a time when the city shows off the abundance of blooms grown locally.
On December 24th at midnight, services take place at cathedrals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, as well as partying in the streets.