Tết, the Lunar Calendar, and the Year of the Monkey

Tet 1By: Adrian Đặng Bảo Oánh


Most of Asia observes the lunar calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon as compared to the Western solar calendar. The celebration of the lunar New Year is perhaps the single most important and prominent event over much of Asia. Western folks sometimes mistakenly call it the “Chinese New Year” for lack of knowledge. The Vietnamese folks call it “Tết”.


Each year carries the sign of one of the animals in the “Asian Zodiac”. These twelve animals, in proper sequence, are: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the cat (also called the rabbit in some countries), the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat (or ram), the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. Year 2016 carries the sign of the MONKEY!


Since the lunar calendar staggers a bit when compared to the solar calendar, the lunar New Year usually falls into the late January or early February timeframe of our Western Calendar. In much of Asia, this would mark the beginning of spring time and, quite appropriately, the beginning of a new year, a new beginning.


In the modern days, people who observe the lunar New Year would limit their celebration to three days due to their busy schedules. There are still some quaint villages in Asia where people would celebrate New Year for as long as three months, in extreme cases. However, the first day is always the most important.


There are many aspects of the lunar New Year celebration. The Asian people politely usher the ending year “out”; then they respectfully and joyously welcome the new year “in”.

Tet 2


Starting a week before New Year’s eve, each household performs the ritual of sending off the kitchen gods back to heaven to report the year’s worth of happenings to the Jade Emperor (the divine God).


During New Year, we can really feel the seasonal change in the climate; it truly feels like a new beginning. The buds and new leaves are sprouting on trees and plants. The birds start laying eggs and animals give birth to young ones. People also join in and celebrate with the rest of nature.


Spiritually, it is time to look back and commemorate the family ancestors. Each person also reflects upon himself/herself to recognize the negative things and mistakes during the departed year to improve upon or get rid of, and he/she solemnly makes resolutions for the entire upcoming year. It is also time to revisit religious beliefs in each individual.


During Tết’s time, lower ranking family members traditionally go to all of the older or higher ranking members and present them with good wishes for the new year. In return, older folks will hand out “lucky money” in beautiful little red envelopes and also wish the younger members well. This tradition is also extended outside of the family to show respect, fondness and thoughtfulness to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.


The first person who enters any home after the turn of the year is believed to bring his/her good or bad luck into that home. Residents of each home are very careful about who shall be the first person to set foot into their home. People really avoid sad or unlucky subjects during this special time of the year.


For celebration, there are usually plenty of food and beverages of the best varieties. People set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. The dragon dances also serve to bring luck and chase off any evil spirit from the last year. There are games that are reserved mostly for New Years time. There are also cultural shows in the performing arts discipline that are presented almost only during Tết’s time.


Happy Year of the Monkey. May you have tranquility in all aspects of your lives, and may all your wishes come true!