Celebrating The Year of The Rat – New Year in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

When Philipp and I arrived in Da Nang on January 8, 2020, we had no idea there was a special day on the horizon. People around us were excited about the upcoming Tết holiday. Tết is a week-long celebration of the start of the Lunar New Year and everyone was preparing for it.

What is the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, and why do they call it Tết?

We found out that it is the most important annual celebration in the Vietnamese culture based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar. It is generally celebrated on the same day as the Chinese New Year, except when the one-hour time difference between the two countries results in a new moon occurring on different days.

The name Tết is short for Tết Nguyên Đán, which means the “feast of the first morning of the first day.” It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar (around late January or early February), celebrating for 3 to 5 days. It is the celebration of the arrival of spring.

What we noticed on the streets of Da Nang was that people were cleaning and fixing their properties. We began to see flower arrangements appear all over town with banners that read “chúc mừng năm mới,” which translates to “Happy New Year.”  Then we noticed that many rats were featured in the decorations, so we started to enquire about it.  Why a rat? We found out it had to do with the Vietnamese zodiac.

So, what is Vietnamese Zodiac?

Wearing the traditional áo dài

Many countries have a different astrological system, and so does Vietnam. Vietnam has the lunar calendar and a system of zodiac signs based on a 12-year cycle. Each year is represented by a different animal. The Vietnamese zodiac signs are as follows (in order): rat, buffalo, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, and lastly the pig. They believe that zodiac animal of the year you are born has a profound influence on a person’s personality and destiny. The Vietnamese believe that the animal hides in your heart exerting its influence on you your whole life.

If interested, look up your year in the Vietnamese zodiac. It determines what animal you are. We were curious, so we looked it up, I am a snake, and Philipp’s animal is a cat. The Vietnamese zodiac shares some of the same signs as the Chinese zodiac, but has a few key differences. Check out the Chinese zodiac. (Philipp is a rabbit in the Chinese zodiac.)

2020 is the year of the rat. Most (western) people don’t consider a rat to be adorable, but in the Vietnamese zodiac calendar, the characteristics of a rat are that a person has spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility, and vitality.

Tết this year fell on the 25th of January, which meant we were in Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam, and not in Da Nang, we left on the 23rd.  When we arrived in HCMC, the displays were breathtaking; they were everywhere around us. It is a celebration when families gather and people forget the troubles of the past year and hope for a better new year. During this time, many people go back to their villages or hometowns to visit family. Many people left HCMC to celebrate with their family, but don’t think that this city was quiet by any means. 

Every night from the 23rd through the 28th (these days vary every year with the lunar calendar), people came out to see the beautiful displays on the Phố đi bộ Nguyễn Huệ walking street and take pictures in their best clothing. At midnight on the 24th, there was a fireworks display that did not disappoint. The fireworks went on for 20 minutes and brought lots of excitement to the people watching the fireworks.

The 25th through the 28th, the city was quiet during the day, but during the evening, everyone came out to the street to celebrate this wonderful occasion. The traffic during the evening was engulfing. Check out the video we created to give you a peek of the celebrations

There are many customs around Tết. The one that captivated us was giving lucky money which is a small amount of money put in a red envelope then given to children and elderly as a wish of luck and that good is to come in the upcoming year.

On the 26th, Philipp and I decided to do something special. We loved the idea of the lucky money but decided to take it in a different direction.  There are many disadvantaged children and elders in HCMC. So, we filled up 20 envelopes with 100,000 dongs and handed them out to homeless children and elders on the streets of Saigon.  It was such an amazing experience; it warmed our hearts every time they looked at us in disbelief that the envelope was for them. They truly treasured it. We knew we had done the right thing, giving up some dinners to make this happen. The smiles we received filled our hearts.

On the 27th and 28th, we explored the city during the day since traffic was lighter than usual and came back to our home base in the evening to work on blogs, videos, posts for LingoHut.

If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, this is an exhilarating time to visit. We loved every minute of it. We’re grateful to be lucky enough to be here during Tết!!

Explore the LingoHut blog

Read the latest