Vietnam Holiday



January 1 New Year’s Day

February 3 Anniversary of the Foundation of the Communist Party of


April 30 Liberation Day, the day on which Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) fell

in 1975, heralding national reunification

May 1 May Day

May 19 Birthday of former president Ho Chi Minh

September 2 National Day


January/February Tet

15th Day of 7th lunar month or any time in the second half of the

month Trung Nguyen (“Wandering Souls” Day)

15th day of the 8th lunar month Trung Thu (Mid-Fall Festival)

Mid-April; 10th day of the 3rd lunar month Hung Kings



Vietnam inherited the lunar calendar from China, with its twelve-year cycle of

years named after various animals, and continues to follow it. The lunar New

Year and the season of Spring start with the Tet Festival, which usually falls in

late January or early February. Tet is a time when everyone wants to be at home

with the family. The house will have been scrubbed clean and decorated; new

clothing will be worn; presents will be exchanged.

Before Tet there will be a rush to buy clothing, vast quantities of food,

candles, and flowers. Practically every family forgets thrift and buys a large

quantity of food for the Tet holidays, not only to eat but to place on the family

altar for the ancestors. City streets are a riot of color with flowers and

decorations on each shop and sidewalk stall. Among the items for sale are the

traditional Tet trees—pink peach blossoms in the north, yellow apricot flowers

in the south, and beautifully trimmed kumquat trees everywhere.

All Vietnamese want to pay off their debts, as it is bad luck to enter the New

Year owing money. In addition, Tet is a time for correcting all faults, forgetting

past mistakes, pardoning the sins of others, and ensuring no further enmity,

grudges, envy, or malice exist. It was for this reason that the 1968 Tet Offensive

launched by the Viet Cong throughout South Vietnam caught the Saigon regime

and the United States by such great surprise.

A week before Tet, the Tao Quan (a trinity of spirits collectively known as the

kitchen god, or the god of the hearth) ascends to heaven to report to the Jade

Emperor on the past year’s events. To ensure a good report, the house must be

thoroughly cleaned and the Tao Quan plied with food and gifts. All the hustle

and bustle of preparation comes to an abrupt halt, however, at noon the day

before Tet, and everyone heads for home, no matter how far away it might be

(even at the other end of the country). The first activity on that afternoon should

be a special ceremony inviting deceased relatives to share in the family

celebrations, and they are invited to come back for a few days and share the

festivities with the living members of the family.

Huge crowds converge on city centers to sing and dance, completely blocking

the streets. The climax comes at the stroke of midnight, when the Tao Quan

returns to earth. In the cities, the sky is lit up by huge fireworks displays (a

substitute for firecrackers, which were banned in 1995 after several deaths).

People rush to gather green leaves for luck as the crescendo of noise reaches a


The next morning, the family rises early and dresses in new clothes. Everyone

offers each other New Year wishes, and the children are given lucky red

envelopes containing money. Tradition attaches great importance to the first

visitor from outside the home on the New Year. He or she is believed to

influence the happiness or well-being of the family during the rest of the year.

On succeeding days, visits are paid to the homes of relatives and friends.

On the fourth day of Tet, the Vietnamese believe that their ancestors return to

their heavenly abode, so life begins to regain its normalcy. People visit graves on

this day, acting as an escort for their departing ancestors.

Some things are considered to be very bad luck if done at Tet. One should

never clean the house, insult others, misbehave, swear, or show any anger or

grief. Breaking any dishes is also considered a bad omen.


Trung Nguyen (“Wandering Souls” Day)

This is the second-largest festival after Tet, and, although it falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, its celebration may be held at any convenient time

during the second half of the month. It is not just a Buddhist holiday, but one

celebrated by all Vietnamese who believe in the existence of God and of good

and evil.

When a person dies, the soul will be judged to decide whether it is to reside in

heaven or hell, based on the person’s earthly conduct. “Wandering Souls” Day is a time for seeking a general amnesty for all souls, as well as a time when the

gates of hell are opened and all the souls fly out unclothed and hungry, seeking

warmth and sustenance. Food is therefore placed on altars, and money and

clothes made of votive paper are burned.


Trung Thu (Mid-Fall Festival)

This festival calls for the production of hundreds of thousands of moon cakes of

sticky rice, filled with all kinds of unusual ingredients, such as peanuts, sugar,

lotus seed, duck-egg yolks, raisins, and watermelon seed. They are baked and

sold in colorful boxes. Moon cakes in expensive ornate boxes are presented as

gifts. On the night of the festival, children form a procession and go through the

streets holding brightly colored lanterns lit by a candle, performing traditional

dances to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals.

There are many legends related to this festival, but the one most accepted is

that it began during the reign of Emperor Minh-Hoang of the Duong Dynasty.

The legend relates that, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, he took

his empress to a lake where they admired the moon, which is exceptionally

bright in this season (China observes the same tradition), and the emperor wrote

a lyrical poem.


Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day

The Hung Kings were the semi-legendary founding dynasty of ancient Vietnam,

and their worship reflects the belief that all Vietnamese have the same origin; it

also expresses the philosophy “When drinking water, remember the source” and

the spirit of national unity.

According to legend, the eldest son of Lac Long Quan and Au

Co arrived in Phong Chau Land (now Phu Tho Province) where he established

the Van Lang nation and became King Hung. Van Lang was the first unified

Vietnamese nation and was ruled by eighteen kings. The Hung Kings taught the

local people to grow rice and chose Nghia Linh Mountain, the highest in the

region, as the place to perform the rituals to the rice and sun gods. In time, a

temple (Hung Kings Temple Relic Site) was set up at the center of Nghia Linh

Mountain and the 10th day of the third lunar month (falling around mid-April)

was chosen as Ancestral Anniversary day. From this first temple, the worship of

the Hung Kings gradually spread and is now practiced both nationwide and by

Vietnamese overseas.

Every year, Ancestral Anniversary day is held at Hung Kings temples

throughout the land, the biggest of which is in Hung Kings Temple Relic Site. In

Phu Tho Province each village selects a festival organizing board of individuals

who lead and manage the rituals. The board appoints temple guardians to tend

the worship sites, instruct devotees, and offer incense to the Hung Kings year

round, and villages select a ritual committee from among knowledgeable elders.

On Hung Kings festival days, communities make offerings of rice-based

delicacies such as square cakes (banh chung) and sticky cakes (banh giay).

People engage in folk arts and performances, including the reading of

supplication petitions, praying, bronze drum beating, and traditional Xoan




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