Most traditional festivals in vietnam have close links with chinese cultural traditions, and follow the lunar calendar, which has only 29.5 days a month. accordingly, the solar dates change annually, and festivals do not fall on fixed dates. Secular holidays, by contrast, are fixed to the Western calendar, and often associated with the country’s recent revolutionary history. over the past two decades, with the liberalization of the vietnamese economy and society, many traditional festivals have also staged a grand comeback, including those related to the imperial dynasties of vietnam. these are marked by ancestor worship ceremonies, colorful parades, feasts, singing, and dancing. in addition to nationwide events, there are many local festivals as well, especially in the red river delta. the ethnic minorities of the north, and the cham and Khmer of the south celebrate their own festivals.
A time of renewal and rebirth, spring is the most festive season in Vietnam. Ushered in with the lunar new year, Tet, it marks a long period of merrymaking all across the country.
I st Lunar Month Tet Nguyen Dan (late Jan– Feb). Commonly known as Tet, this is the most important festival in the Vietnamese calendar. Homes and streets are decorated with lights and colorful flowers, stalls selling traditional foods are set up, and families exchange gifts and gather for feasts. Officially a three-day holiday, businesses often shut for a week.
Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (Feb 3). Commemorates the day on which Ho Chi Minh established the party in 1930.
Tay Son Festival (early Feb), Tay Son District, Binh Dinh Province. Marking the 18th-century Tay Son Rebellion, this week-long revelry features elephant parades, a drumming competition, and martial arts performances.
Yen Tu Festival (mid Feb–end Apr), Yen Tu Mountain. Honors the founding of the Truc Lam Buddhist sect. Pilgrims climb to the summit to burn incense and meditate at the pagodas here.
Lim Festival (mid-Feb), Lim Village, Bac Ninh Province. Celebrated 14 days after Tet, this festival is best known for its quan ho folk songs. Clad in ethnic garb, both men and women sing improvised lyrics to each other, often in the form of witty repartee. Also features wrestling matches and weaving competitions.
Perfume Pagoda Festival (Feb–May), Perfume Pagoda. The scenic surrounds are said to be the Buddha’s heaven. Thousands of pilgrims visit the pagoda to celebrate this three-month- long religious festival.
2nd Lunar Month Hai Ba Trung Festival (early Mar), Hai Ba Trung Temple, Hanoi. Honors the heroic Trung Sisters. A procession takes their statues from the temple to the Red River for a ceremonial bath.
Ba Chua Kho Temple Festival (Mar), Ba Chua Kho Temple, Co Me, Bac Ninh Province. Worshippers congregate at the temple to petition Lady Chua Kho for good fortune and borrow money from her in a symbolic ritual.
3rd Lunar Month Thay Pagoda Festival (Apr 5–7), Thay Pagoda, Ha Tay Province. People gather to worship the patron saint of water puppets, Tu Dao Hanh, who is said to have become a Buddhist at Thay Pagoda. Celebrated over two days, several water puppet shows are Street market festooned with brightly colored flowers during Tet staged to mark the occasion.
Hon Chen Festival (early Apr), Hon Chen Temple (see p152), Hue. Based on an old Cham festival, this biannual event, held in the 3rd and 7th lunar months, pays tribute to the Goddess Thien Y A Na. This event features a procession of boats on the Perfume River, as well as the staging of traditional tableau.
Thanh Minh (early Apr). Dedicated to departed souls, this festival is observed all across Vietnam. Offerings are made to the spirits of the de ceased, and ancestral graves are repaired and cleaned properly.
Hung Kings’ Temple Festival (Apr), Hung Kings’ Temples, Phu Tho Province. This three-day festival honors the Hung Kings and the celebrations include gaily colored parades that take place around the temples. Various cultural events such as classical opera at Den Ha and xoan song performances are held at Den Thuong.
Liberation Day (Apr 30). Honors the fall of Saigon to communist forces on April 30, 1975.
With the summer solstice celebrated in early June, this primarily hot and wet season is when the country observes some of its most important national holidays.
4th Lunar Month Labor Day (May 1). Legions of workers parade through cities to mark their solidarity with working people through- out the world.
Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday (May 19). Supposedly a secular public holiday, this day has become something of a quasi-spiritual event as Ho Chi Minh achieves the status of a deified hero in Vietnam.
The Buddha’s Birthday (May 28). Also known as Le Phat Dan. Lanterns are hung outside temples and homes to celebrate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.
Tra Co Village Festival (May 30–Jun 7), Hai Ninh District, Quang Ninh Province. Held in far northeast Vietnam, this rural festival highlights events such as pig-breeding and cooking contests, traditional games, and dancing.
The Vietnamese zodiac runs on a 12-year cycle, each represented by a specific animal. Instead of centuries, the Viet lunar calendar is divided into 60-year cycles known as hoi. Each of these consists of five 12-year animal cycles.
5th Lunar Month Tet Doan Ngo (early Jun). Also known as the “Killing the Inner Insect Festival,” Tet Doan Ngo signals the summer solstice. This Taoist festival falls at the hottest time of the year, when fevers caused by insects are at their peak. To ensure good health and well being, offerings are made to the God of Death.
Chem Temple Festival (mid- Jun), Thuy Phuong Village, Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Held in honor of Ly Ong Trong, a great 3rdcentury warrior, this festival features elaborate ceremonies such as a dragonboat race, the releasing of pigeons, and a ritualized washing of the temple’s statues.
6th Lunar Month Dad Xa Village Festival (Jul 9–10), Tam Thanh District, Phu Tho Province. Hosted to honor General Ly Thuong Kiet’s victory over the Chinese in AD 1075. The festivities include boat racing on the Song Da or Black River.
Tam Tong Festival (Jul), Vinh Loc District, Thanh Hoa Province. With no fixed date, Tam Tong takes place at times of drought.
While the south remains hot and wet, the north becomes cooler and pleasant. As the leaves change color, autumn is a good time to follow the festivals in the north.
7th Lunar Month Hon Chen Festival (early Aug), Hon Chen Temple. Trung Nguyen (mid-Aug). The most important festival after Tet, the Taoist Trung Nguyen also has a Buddhist equivalent, Vu Lan, which takes place during the same time. It is believed that lost spirits leave hell on this day to wander the earth. Paper money is burnt to placate these tortured souls.
Le Van Duyet Temple Festival (late Aug–early Sep), Le Van Duyet Temple, Ho Chi Minh City. The festival takes place on the anniversary of the death of Le Van Duyet. People flock to his mausoleum to pray for a good harvest, safety, and happiness. Traditional opera and dance recitals are staged.
8th Lunar Month National Day (Sep 2). Marks Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 proclamation of the Declaration of Independence. In Hanoi, the day is celebrated with lively parades in Ba Dinh Square.
Do Son Buffalo Fighting Festival (early Sep), Do Son, Haiphong Province. A procession of six specially trained buffalos are ceremoniously led into the arena, and paired off to fight each other. A winner is declared when one of the buffalos runs away. It is a short respite, as at the end of the day, the animals are slaughtered and eaten.
Trung Thu or mid-Autumn Festival (mid-Sep). Also known as the Children’s Moon Festival, Trung Thu is a colorful affair, with much revelry and excitement all around. Children are given new toys and festive masks, and are treated to freshly baked moon cakes. Lantern processions, games, and martial arts demonstrations are all part of the festivities.
Whale Festival (Sep). The worship of whales is an ancient practice likely rooted in the Khmer and Cham cultures. Large processions gather at the temples to make offerings. In Phan Thiet, the festival also includes the Chinese community, with elaborate parades throughout the city.
Kate Festival (Sep–Oct), Po Klong Garai Towers, Phan Rang–Thap Cham. This lengthy festival follows the Cham calendar, and is the most important celebration for the Cham minority. Droves of devotees in colorful processions, along with traditional musicians, make their way up to the towers to pay homage to the Cham deities, rulers, and revered national heroes.
9th Lunar Month Keo Pagoda Festival (mid-Oct), Vu Nhat Village, Thai Binh Province. The anniversary of the death of Buddhist monk Duong Khong Lo is remembered over three days. Events include a lavish procession and religious rituals, as well as cooking and duck-catching competitions, and a trumpet and drum contest.
Confucius’ Birthday (late Oct/ early Nov). Confucianism, as a system of state administration, may have disappeared under the communist regime, but Confucius is still venerated. The date has been declared Teacher’s Day, and the sage is offered incense and prayers in many temples.
By now it is cold and rainy in the north, the traditional Viet homeland where most festivals originated, so there are fewer celebrations during this season.
10th Lunar Month Oc Om Boc Festival and Ngo Boat Races (mid-Nov), Soc Trang. This Khmer festival is dedicated to the moon. Villagers deposit trays of rice, bananas, and coconuts in temples in the hope of abundant crops and plentiful fish. The main event has a series of ngo or canoe races, with competitors from Vietnam and Cambodia. Each boat is carved from a single tree.
Nguyen Trung Truc Temple Festival (late Nov), Long Kien Village, Cho Moi District, An Giang Province. This temple is dedicated to the deified national hero, Nguyen Trung Truc (1837–68), renowned for leading the anti-French movement in southern Vietnam. Boat racing competitions and chess matches are enjoyable components of the revelries, along with the re-enactment of the sinking of the French ship, Esperance, at the hands of Nguyen Trung Truc and his partisans.
11th Lunar Month Dalat Flower Festival (Dec), Dalat. Held by the shores of Xuan Huong Lake, this festival showcases the many beautiful species of flowers that thrive in the cool uplands around Dalat. Along with the array of flowers, there is music and dancing, as well as displays of colored lanterns.
Trung Do Festival (late Dec). This festival honors the Viet patriot Ly Bon who led a successful revolt against the Chinese in AD 542, later proclaiming himself as the Emperor Li Nam De. Traditional ball games known as phet are played during the boisterous celebrations.
Christmas (Dec 25). Although predominantly a Buddhist country, Vietnam has a large Christian community as well. As such, Christmas is celebrated with enthusiasm, especially in the big cities where streets and stores are decorated with lights, fake snow, shiny baubles, and ornaments.
12th Lunar Month New Year’s Day (Jan 1). No special events are associated with this recent addition from the Western calendar, but this day is officially recognized as a public holiday, and its status is gaining recognition. Still, it is nowhere close to attaining Tet’s status.
Public and other Holidays
New Year’s Day Jan 1
Tet Nguyen Dan 27–29 Jan (2017); 15–17 Feb (2018)
Founding Day of the Communist Party of Vietnam Feb 3
Hung Kings Day Apr 6 (2017); Apr 25 (2018)
Liberation Day Apr 30
Labor Day May 1
Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday May 19
National Day Sep 2