Tết Nguyên Tiêu: the full moon festival of the first month of the year

The Tet Nguyen Tieu, also known as Tet Thuong Nguyen or Ram thang Gieng, is a traditional festival celebrated with great enthusiasm in Vietnam and other Asian countries. On February 24, 2024, the magic of Tet Nguyen Tieu will light up the night sky, marking the end of the Tet festivities and the first day of the lunar new year.
Learn more about the Lunar New Year in Vietnam

Tet Nguyen Tieu marks the end of the Tet festivities ans the beginning of the new lunar year - Photo : Internet

Origins and beliefs of Tet Nguyen Tieu

The origins of Tet Nguyen Tieu are complex and have multiple explanations, both legendary and historical.

Ancestor worship and offerings to the heavenly emperor

One explanation dates back to the Han dynasty, where the first day of the lunar month was dedicated to honoring ancestors and the emperor of the sky. On the 15th day, a ceremony was organized under the full moon, with lantern offerings that symbolized harmony and prosperity. This ceremony is still practiced today in Vietnam and other parts of Asia, where people light up colorful lanterns and release them into the sky, creating a magical and enchanting atmosphere.

Commemoration of the end of the Dong Zhuo rebellion

Another explanation comes from a popular legend, where the general Han Xin defeated the tyrant Dong Zhuo by burning his troops on the 15th day of the lunar month. This story is celebrated by lighting up lanterns with images of the general and the tyrant, representing the victory of good over evil.

Festival of spring and renewal

Coinciding with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, Tet Nguyen Tieu symbolizes the rebirth of nature and renewal. Lanterns illuminate the night and bring joy and hope for the coming year.
But the best-known legend is still the one involving the Han Wudi emperor of the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). It says:
Once upon a time, long ago, there was a powerful and wise emperor named Han Wudi. He ruled a vast empire called China, and his people loved him very much.
One evening, as Emperor Han Wudi strolled through the gardens of his palace, he saw a bright light in the sky. He looked up and saw a beautiful goddess descending on a cloud. The goddess was dressed in a white silk dress, and her hair was long and black as night. She held in her hand a magic lantern that emitted a soft and peaceful glow.
Emperor Han Wudi was captivated by the beauty of the goddess illuminated by the light of her lantern. He approached her and inquired about her identity and origins. The goddess explained to him that she was the divinity of heaven and that she had come down to Earth to offer him a gift. This gift was the magic lantern, symbol of peace and prosperity.
Emperor Han Wudi was delighted to receive this precious gift. He expressed his gratitude to the goddess and vowed to always use the lantern to light the way for his people. The goddess smiled and rose into the sky, leaving Emperor Han Wudi with his magic lantern.
He later decreed that the lantern should be lit every year on the 15th day of the first lunar month. This tradition then spread throughout the country, and the Lantern Festival became an important celebration for the Chinese people.
Even today, the Chinese celebrate Tet Nguyen Tieu by lighting lanterns and praying for peace and prosperity, a tradition followed by many Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam.

Han Emperor Wu Di - Photo : Internet

An esoteric day

The 15th day of the first lunar month is considered a day favorable to divination and spiritual purification. Seen from this angle, the lanterns represent the light that drives away evil spirits and attracts luck.
Did you know? Number divination, known as xem bói, is a popular practice during Tet Nguyen Tieu. People consult fortune tellers to get predictions about their future.
This ancient tradition involves seeking guidance and predictions about the future from fortune tellers. People often seek advice on various aspects of their life, from love and relationships to career and finances. The divination process involves various methods, including astrology, palm reading, spirit invocation, and dream interpretation. Astrology, based on the Chinese zodiac sign of a person's birth year, is used to determine their character, fortune, and destiny. Palm reading involves interpreting the lines on a person's palm to reveal information about their personality, health, and important life events. Spirit invocation is a practice of calling upon the spirits to provide guidance and advice. Finally, dream interpretation involves analyzing dreams as symbolic messages that can predict the future or offer advice on current life situations.

Xem boi is traditional during Tet Ngueyn Tieu - Photo : Internet

Meaning of the Tet Nguyen Tieu

The Tet Nguyen Tieu festival is not just about lanterns and legends; it is also a time for families to come together and share traditional dishes, such as banh chung, a sticky rice cake filled with meat and beans, and banh tet, a cylindrical glutinous rice cake filled with pork and beans. The festival is also marked by dragon and lion dances, where performers dressed in colorful costumes dance to the rhythm of drums and cymbals, creating an exciting and vibrant atmosphere.
It is a time for families and friends to gather together, share meals, and light lanterns. The festival has many different meanings and origins, including the celebration of the return of spring after the long winter, the victory and return of peace after a war, and the birthday of Buddha.
Overall, the Tet Nguyen Tieu festival is a time for people to celebrate their culture, traditions, and heritage, and to welcome the new year with joy and optimism. Whether it's through the lighting of lanterns, the sharing of food, or the dancing of lions and dragons, the festival is a testament to the resilience and spirit of the Vietnamese people.

A connection to history and tradition

The festival is a feast for the senses, with vibrant colors, delicious smells, and lively sounds. The streets are filled with people wearing their best clothes, and the air is thick with the aroma of grilled meats and sweet cakes. Lanterns of all shapes and sizes hang from trees and buildings, casting a warm glow over the festivities. Children run through the streets carrying lanterns of their own, laughing and singing songs.
One of the most significant aspects of Tet Nguyen Tieu is its connection to history and tradition. The festival has been celebrated for centuries, and it is a time for people to honor their ancestors and pay tribute to their cultural heritage. It is a reminder of the resilience and strength of the Vietnamese people in the face of adversity.

Dance of the Dragons in front of a pagoda (HCM-city) - Photo : Internet

A spiritual connection

Another important aspect of the festival is its spiritual significance. The 15th day of the first lunar month is a time for purification and divination, and the lanterns symbolize the light that dispels darkness and attracts good luck. It is a time to reflect on one's own life and make wishes for the future.
Tet Nguyen Tieu is marking the end of the Tet festivities and the start of a new year. The term translates to the first full moon night of the new year, where "Nguyen" means first and "Tieu" means night. This annual celebration is significant for Buddhists, who believe that worshipping on the full moon of the first lunar month is more auspicious than worshipping throughout the year. Tet Nguyen Tieu is also known as Tet Thuong Nguyen, to differentiate it from Tet Trung Nguyen (full moon of the seventh month) and Tet Ha Nguyen (full moon of October).

An ode to the full moon

The full moon on the 15th day of the first lunar month holds immense importance in various Asian cultures. It represents perfection, harmony, and the coming together of families. The night sky is adorned with brightly lit lanterns, the most iconic symbol of Tet Nguyen Tieu. These lanterns are a sight to behold, illuminating the darkness and symbolizing hope, joy, and prosperity. The intricate designs and vibrant colors of the lanterns are a testament to the creativity and craftsmanship of the people who make them.
Another significant aspect of Tet Nguyen Tieu is the food. Families gather together to enjoy a sumptuous feast, featuring traditional dishes like banh chung (sticky rice cake), banh tet (cylindrical glutinous rice cake), and xoi gac (glutinous rice with red sticky seeds). These dishes are not only tasty but also hold cultural significance, with each ingredient symbolizing different aspects of life, such as good luck, wealth, and happiness.

Special dishes for Tet Nguyen Tieu - Photo : Internet

During Tet Nguyen Tieu, sharing sticky rice cakes, known as bánh trôi nước, is a traditional practice that symbolizes perfection and harmony. These round cakes are a staple of the holiday and are often enjoyed with family and friends. They are made from glutinous rice flour and filled with a sweet mixture of mung bean paste and sugar. When eaten, the sticky texture of the cake represents the stickiness of familial bonds and the sweetness of the filling symbolizes the hope for a sweet and prosperous new year.
Overall, Tet Nguyen Tieu is a time for reflection, gratitude, and renewal. It is a time for families to come together, share a meal, and celebrate the start of a new year with hope and optimism for what the future holds.

A time for purification

Finally, Tet Nguyen Tieu is believed to be a time for cleansing and purification, a time to rid oneself and their family of any lingering misfortune or bad luck from the previous year. Many people participate in rituals and ceremonies to cleanse their homes and their spirits, ensuring that they start the new year with a clean slate and a fresh start.

Tet Nguyen Tieu, nowadays, in Vietnam

Overall, Tet Nguyen Tieu is a time of great celebration and joy in Vietnam, filled with vibrant colors, music, and dance. But it is also a time for reflection, honoring ancestors, and seeking blessings for the new year. It is a time to come together as a community and celebrate the hope and promise of a new beginning.
The making of lanterns is one of the most significant activities during the Tet Nguyen Tieu celebration, and it is a symbol that represents the festival's essence. These lanterns are crafted from bamboo and paper, with intricate and colorful designs. It is customary to light flower lamps in front of homes, along rivers, ponds, and lakes, with the hope that their prayers for peace and prosperity will ascend to the heavens, much like the light from the lanterns.
Do you know those Facts about Vietnam?

Tet Nguyen Tieu is very important for Buddhists - Photo : Internet

Nowadays in Vietnam, Tet Nguyen Tieu is a special day where families come together to pay their respects to Buddha and their ancestors and to wish for a peaceful and prosperous new year. Each family prepares a beautiful offering tray to show their gratitude and respect. The content of each tray varies depending on the region and economic circumstances, but the underlying objective remains the same - to honor Buddha and their ancestors. On the day of Tet Nguyen Tieu, the Vietnamese people also visit temples to pray for peace and prosperity in the coming year. The atmosphere in the temples is serene and tranquil, with the sweet aroma of incense filling the air. People kneel before the altars, clasping their hands together in prayer, and offering gifts of fruit and flowers to Buddha. The celebration of Tet Nguyen Tieu is not just limited to families and temples. The holiday is celebrated throughout the country, with large-scale festivals being held in major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang. These vibrant festivals are a spectacle of color, sound, and taste, with street vendors selling delicious food, traditional lanterns lighting up the night sky, and lion dancers performing energetic routines. The holiday is also a time for businesses and shops to close early or remain shut, allowing employees and customers to spend time with their loved ones. However, the disruptions to public transport can cause some inconvenience to travelers.

To conclude

In short, Tet Nguyen Tieu is a time for the Vietnamese people to come together, celebrate, and reflect on the past year while welcoming the new one with hope and optimism. It is a beautiful and meaningful holiday that truly showcases the rich culture and traditions of Vietnam.


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