There is a variety of festivals in Vietnam, involving sacred ceremonial rites and colorful activities. Some are nationwide, others are held in specific regions. Most commemorate ancestors and are convened on dates according to the lunar calendar.
For visitors who enjoy traditional customs and spiritual events, participating in the Vietnamese festivals is one way of enjoying a tour of Vietnam.
The Lunar Calendar
Getting to know the lunar calendar will help you understand the festivals better.
In Vietnam the lunar calendar is usually used for traditional events and religious activities, while the solar calendar is more relevant to work and international communications. As the 1st day (no moon) and the 15th day (full moon) are considered special days, many of the festivals and worship ceremonies take place on one of those days. The calendar not only influences Vietnamese festivals, but also Vietnamese people's customs and how they carry out daily activities.
Unlike the solar calendar which has 365 days in a normal year and 366 days in a leap year, the lunar calendar has 353 to 355 days in a normal year (with twelve months) and 383 to 385 days in a leap year (with thirteen months). Normally, a lunar month is about 30 days later than the corresponding solar month. This all explains why the festivals corresponding to no moon and full moon fall on different solar-calendar dates every year.
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Tet — Vietnamese Lunar New Year
The Lunar New Year is named "Tết Nguyên Đán" in Vietnamese or "Tết" for short. It's considered the most important and popular festival of the year and is celebrated throughout the country.
What Tet Is
Tet is an occasion for thanksgiving and for family reunions. The purpose of Tet is to thank gods for the arrival of spring and show gratitude for protection over the past year. Also, it's a great time for family members to gather together and celebrate, with great meals and activities.
When to Celebrate
During the 1st lunar month of the year. This often begins between late January and early February. The Vietnamese usually celebrate the whole month, though officially Tet only includes the 1st, 2nd and 3rd days of the 1st lunar month.
How to Celebrate
Preparations are made in advance of the upcoming New Year. After the ritual for worshipping kitchen gods, people start to clean their houses and brighten them up with beautiful decorations like flowers, kumquat bushes and peach branches. Then, they adorn their ancestral altar with various offerings.
Also, they buy new clothes, get a haircut, pay off any debts and stock up on traditional delicacies such as chuang cake, candied fruit, pork bologna and pickled onion. City streets are filled with red and yellow, perceived as lucky colors, and bringing good luck.
Besides, great meals are shared and gifts are exchanged between family members and friends. Children receive lucky money in red envelopes. Some people stay at home and watch TV or play traditional games, while others go out to see firework displays or to visit pagodas and pray for a good year.
Traveling in Vietnam During Tet
Transportation is a big concern during Tet as it's hard to get tickets when flights, trains and coaches are mostly fully-booked. We highly recommend that you book your travel tickets for the holiday time as early as possible. Meanwhile, most sightseeing attractions, public offices and restaurants are closed for a few days, so Tet may not be the best time for city tours or culinary treats. If however you were invited to visit a Vietnamese family, this would be ideal; you'd be impressed by the traditional celebrations of this grand event.
The Lim Festival is celebrated among residents of Lim Village in Bac Ninh province, as well as by pilgrims from elsewhere in the country.
What the Lim Festival Is
A special cultural event in the northern region, for worshipping Ba Mu, who protected the villagers from a severe drought and lived the life of a Buddhist nun at Lim Pagoda. Also, it popularizes Quan Ho folk songs throughout the country.
When to Celebrate
13th day of the first lunar month
How to Celebrate
A show of Quan Ho folk songs is performed by experienced singers. It consists of some skillful dialogues between "lien anh" and "lien chi" (male and female singers). After the show, there are weaving competitions among Noi Due girls and some traditional games. The girls can weave and sing Quan Ho at the same time. Worship ceremonies are also an indispensable part of the festival.
The Hue Festival is one of the most highly-anticipated events in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, to honor the best of Hue's culture.
What the Hue Festival Is
A cultural event with a distinct theme every time, aiming to promote traditional art.
When to Celebrate
Biennial, April of even years
How to Celebrate
A variety of traditional activities – such as splendid concerts, dance performances, firework displays, calligraphy exhibitions and street festivals – are conducted with participation of art troupes from Vietnam and other countries.
The Mid-Autumn festival is named "Tết Trung Thu" in Vietnamese.
What the Mid-Autumn Festival Is
It's the day in the year when the moon is at its brightest and a time to worship the Moon God. It's also known as the Children's Festival, since the Vietnamese believe that children have a closer connection with deities than adults, so put the event's emphasis on children.
When to Celebrate
Full moon during the 8th lunar month
How to Celebrate
Lion dances are performed during the festival and lanterns are hung around the streets. Moon cakes are made and shared among family members, signifying the unity of families. Other activities such as lantern fairs and making offerings to dragons add luster to the festival.
Other Holidays and Festivals
January 1st — International New Year's Day, a public holiday during which public offices, banks and some sightseeing attractions are closed.
10th day of the 3rd lunar month — Anniversary of the Hung Kings, a public holiday during which public offices, banks and some sightseeing attractions are closed. This festival is for worshipping the Hung Kings and educating the younger generation. Every year people flock to the Hung Kings' Temple at Phu Tho to join in the solemn ceremonies, along with some traditional activities, such as singing folk songs.
May 1st — International Labor Day, a public holiday on which public offices, banks and some sightseeing attractions are closed. Many people head back to their hometowns or travel around. Public transport is busy.
September 2nd — Independence Day, a public holiday in which public offices, banks and some sightseeing attractions are closed. It's an important day for celebrating the independence of Vietnam in 1945. Various activities such as firework displays and street-marching can be observed. Many people will travel around, possibly visiting Ba Dinh Square, to recall how President Ho Chi Minh first read the Declaration of Independence.
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