The most popular and important event of the year in Hanoi is Tet Nguyen Dan (translated from Sino-Vietnamese to Feast of the First Morning), or Tet for short, that occurs at the beginning of January or end of February. The holiday has strong ties to China beyond its Sino-Vietnamese name – the holiday usually occurs on the same day as the Chinese New Year with exceptions to days that affected by the one-hour time difference between Hanoi and Beijing. It marks the lunar calendar’s New Year and arrival of spring with a multi-day celebration from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar until at least the third day.
Like many eastern cultures’ honoring of the New Year, the Vietnamese traditionally celebrate the day by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning their homes as well as performing customs special to the day. It is a joyous occasion upon which people are to forget about their past troubles and focus on the hope and bright intentions of the future. Tet is broken up into three events: Before New Year’s Eve (Tất Niên), New Year’s Eve (Giao Th ừa), and the New Year (Tân Niên). The first phase is the best to see throngs of Vietnamese people bustling through the streets shopping for presents, supplies and food. Midnight of New Year’s Eve is brought in with the Le Tru Tich ceremony during which firecrackers, gongs, and various noisemakers are used to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new.
For visitors, this time of year is one of the best glimpses into native Vietnamese culture, identity, and beliefs. Positivity and joy spreads to all the people as it is a holiday of spirituality, kindness and openness to each other and to the future. In addition, since most buildings and homes are recently cleaned and some freshly painted, Hanoi is the picture of pristine cleanliness and heightened beauty. Even though shopping centers and stores are closed for the 3 days of the holiday, luxury hotels and tourist locales are open to accommodate travelers that are not celebrating the holiday. The best part of your stay will be the numerous local specialty dishes that are only made during New Year’s time including soups, fried, boiled and stewed dishes.
In Hanoi you’ll find pig trotters stewed with bamboo shoots, boiled chicken, carp cooked in salted sauce, jellied meat, and kohlrabi – cauliflower or onion fried with pig skin or lean pork. Dishes not to miss: Banh chung, which is a square cake made of rice, pork and green beans wrapped in dong leaves and boiled, and pickled onions. The onions are helpful to digestion during this 3-day event that is so meat-heavy.