Official and informal holidays and festivals in Vietnam

Polina
Polina
Updated: 27 May 2019
Time to read: 29 minutes
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Celebrating of most holidays in Vietnam continues for a week or more, even it can last two weeks. Holidays’ dates can be changed every year according to the Lunar Calendar.

Public Holidays

If the first day of a holiday is Saturday or Sunday, the nearest Monday will be a day-off too. Some foreign offices and embassies can take an additional vacation, but most shops and restaurants stay open for visitors. Tourists who want to visit Vietnam in January/February, should plan their voyage more attentively: almost all shops, museums will not work for two weeks because of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year holiday.

About a half of holidays in Vietnam are celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, the second half is celebrated according to the Lunar calendar. Most of official Vietnamese holidays are devoted to important dates in the country and to cultural values. The most major ones relate to the ancestor worship and are intended to invite the deceased to houses and to offer them some meals. Also people visit American-Vietnamese war victims’ graves: they cut grass around it, pray for deceased’s souls, bring flowers and gifts.

Chinese Lunar Calendar

A traditional Lunar calendar is usually used in Vietnam, if people want to set a date of most holidays. And also most festivals take place according to it. A Lunar calendar is based upon the Moon’s cycles and consists of twelve Lunar months. Years are not the same, as in the Gregorian calendar: for example, the 2018 year  the 4716 in the Lunar calendar. Tet (Vietnamese New Year) begins, when the Sun belongs to the constellation of Aquarius. There are so called «auspicious» and «adverse» days in Vietnam according to this calendar: the 5th, the 14th and the 23th days are auspicious, and it is better to behave well, do nothing serious. It’s normal (don’t be surprised): Vietnamese can refuse to meet you in these days.

New Year (The 1st of January)

Oh yes, most Vietnamese holidays and festivals take place according to the Lunar calendar, but the Christian calendar also is used in the country. Vietnamese people celebrate a traditional New Year on the 1st of January. This is an official date, that’s why most state institutions, offices and banks are usually closed.

Tet (Lunar New Year): late January – mid-February

Vietnamese in the temple on the first day of the year
The first New Year’s morning traditionally begins by going to the temple
You can read about Tet in details in the article «Vietnamese Luna New Year (Tet)»

Tet is one of the most important holidays in Vietnam. It is translated as «Feast of the first morning of the first day». Officially the holiday lasts three days, but Vietnamese people prefer to have a rest for about a month. Tet is very important according to people’s religious belief here, and everyone prepares for this holiday in advance.

Vietnamese clean their apartments very thoroughly, clean the dishes until  shine, sometimes they repaint their houses’ walls. They decorate their houses by apricot and peach blossoms and by the other bright flowers.

Also Vietnamese pay great attention to the altar of ancestors during this holiday – they decorate it by five sorts of fruits. Everybody buys new clothes and footwear, people try to pay off all loans and to make peace with relatives and friends. They believe: everything they do on Tet’s eve will affect the whole year. They smile a lot and try to do their best according

During Tet the dominant colors in clothes, in decorations of streets and houses are red and yellow. It is assumed that such colors will bring good luck. Also during Tet there is a good tradition: all people present each other gifts, money in red envelopes. Holidays are rather long (5-9 days), and most cafes, restaurants don’t work, the situation with tourist services is just the same.

The Hung Kings’ Temple Festival

Day of Memory of the Kings of Vietnam
Kings Memorial Day

This festival is celebrated from the 8th till the 11th day of the third lunar month. To tell the truth, the festival doesn’t mark any special date of Hung King’s death. At the same time, Hung Kings are well known as founders and first emperors of Vietnamese nation. The festival means giving thanks to parents, ancestors worship and patriotism. In Vietnam this holiday is not only a joyous celebration, but also it is cultural immersion to the history. The festival lasts four days, the tenth day is the most important and it is an official day off in Vietnam.

Liberation of Saigon (the 30th of April)

On 30 April 1975 the Saigon Palace was captured, and a little bit later south of the country was liberated. The 30th of April is the most favorite and the most important holiday in Vietnam – it marks the end of Vietnam war and the date of birth of Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Dressed up people walk along streets, there are waving flags on all houses everywhere. When the evening parade starts, the main streets are closed off and there is only pedestrian traffic in these places. Vietnamese government pays great attention to this date and events during it, although financial restrictions make celebrations rather modest sometimes.

International Workers’ Day (the 1st of May)

Parade of workers on Labor Day
Meetings and parades on Labor Day

Labour Day in Vietnam is a public holiday. It comes after the Saigon Fall holiday, and people usually celebrate these two holidays together. Demonstrations, parades and different performances take place on the 1st of May as well.

National Day (the 2nd of September)

Vietnamese people celebrate declaration of independence from France on this day. There are unstoppable performances, parades and demonstrations throughout the country. This event is a real patriotic occasion in Vietnam: there are national flags and Uncle Ho’s portraits everywhere.

On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh read the declaration of independence of the country at Ba Dinh Square, and since that date the holiday has been celebrated as National Day. It is a public holiday, and all people in Vietnam have the ability to spend their time as they want: somebody goes travelling with the family, the other people visit Ba Dinh Square or the Chairman Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Anyway, everybody finds time to ponder this significant national event. A Grand National Day Parade, which takes place at Ba Dinh Square, demonstrates achievements of military and police units. About 30 000 people visit this massive parade: military, police, bands and common people in their traditional dresses are marching past the Mausoleum, the resting place of Vietnamese revolutionary leader.

Independence Day is a very important political and cultural event in any country, and Vietnam is not the exception. Ho Chi Minh’s communist party (Viet Minh) controlled a large part of Vietnam’s territory, and in the middle of August Ho Chi Minh called upon the people to revolt, and on the 2nd of September he declared independence of Vietnam. Huge crowds of people came to Ba Dinh Square: long French colonial rule seemingly ended, but some months later French forced came back. «Uncle Ho» and his troops were forced into hiding in northern jungle. The struggle had been continuing for eight years, until French forces surrendered. It happened after the battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7 1954.

Then American troops came to Vietnam, a bloody and violent war began, it ended on April 30 1975. South and North were united under the leadership of the communist government.

Teachers’ Day (the 20th of November)

Vietnamese people celebrate the Teachers’ Day at the end of September. It must be noted that pedagogics is a very respectable profession in every Asian country. In China, for example, a word «laoshi» («teacher» in Chinese) is said with great respect by everybody, an adult or a child.

Asian people think that teaching profession is one of the most respectable and important, and they are teaching children to listen to their masters. If the teacher is arguing, you have to show humility – any teacher is always right.

The National Teachers’ day is celebrated on November 20 every year. There are concerts at schools, students and pupils visit their teachers, present small gifts, flowers and express respect to them.

Family Holidays

Birthday in Vietnam

In accordance with the Lunar calendar, Vietnamese people can be one or two years older than according to the international system of age. Why is it happening?

It is rather common in Vietnam: when a baby is born, automatically one more year is added to his (her) age. Vietnamese think that the age of a child must be counted from the first day of mother’s pregnancy. The second extra year is added because of the following Vietnamese tradition: people in East Asia often reckon their age from the first day of the current New Year. A person may be twenty years old (according to international system of age), but it will be said that he (she) is twenty two, even if the birthday was one day before New year! It is very difficult to understand this age reckoning, but Vietnamese often calculate their age in such a way.

Time of day, the date and the year of birth are very important according to this age reckoning: people in Vietnam determine person’s character, innate abilities and future. But it doesn’t’ mean that a physiological birth date isn’t celebrated at all. Vietnamese can invite family members only, it will be a small party with a cake and some drink. People may pray for happy future, think of their ancestors. There is an altar to honor ancestors in every Vietnamese family, and they put some food, sweet fruits, tea and flowers there on this day.

Wedding in Vietnam

If the bride’s and the groom’s families are rich, wedding will be a reason to demonstrate their financial well-being. Vietnamese government tries to limit it: for example, some years ago the Prime Minister asked public officials not to spend much money on weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, rich Vietnamese didn’t often pay attention to his wishes… At the same time, the government of Vietnam encourages people to raise a family.

Holiday Table

Large parties in Vietnam are not common: for example, if somebody has two or three groups of different friends and they don’t know each other, it will be better to celebrate something twice or three times. It is not very common to celebrate family holidays with a big amount of people either; only weddings, funerals and festivals require many guests. Female visitors often bring food and help with the table.

The usual amount of people coming to the table is about twelve. A Vietnamese holiday table includes «cac mon man» (salted food) and «mon ngot» (sweet dishes). The most popular dishes during holidays are: rice noodles, bamboo shoots, meatballs, grilled pork sausages, stewed vegetables, roasted or boiled chicken (or duck), goi (Vietnamese salad) and of course Banh tet or Banh chung during Tet.

Vietnamese Traditional Festivals

Festivals in Vietnam are mostly dedicated to deities, to heroes of their national history or to mythical creatures. Some of them fought against foreign invaders, the other ones struggled against miseries of life or natural disasters.

Festivals represent the true force of a commune, of a village, of a region and of the whole nation. Referring of traditional moral values from the older generation is happening during Vietnamese festivals. Any festival in this country is a very good reason to ask for help from deities, to express grief or concern. Most Vietnamese festivals take place in spring or in autumn, when there is the most favorable climate.

Perfume Pagoda festival (Huong Pagoda Festival)

There is a beautiful complex of shrines and temples in Huong Tich mountains, and the centre of the complex is Chua Trong, or the Perfume Temple. Every year thousands of pilgrims climp the mountains there: it symbolizes their respect to Buddha.

Bai Dinh Temple Festival

This pagoda is the biggest temple in Vietnam nowdays, and it hosts a large and colorful festival on the 6th day of the first Lunar month. Bai Dinnh festival consists of two parts – ceremonial and entertaining. The ceremonial part includes the worship of Buddha and of Guanyin (Asian Goddess of Mercy). The entertaining part means dances, national games and performances based on historical events.

Lim Festival

It takes place in the Lim town – it is situated in Bac Ninh province, 20 km from Hanoi. The most significant event of the festival is «quan ho» – national singing performance. Lim festival is a very important part of Vietnamese culture, thousands of tourists visit the town on the 12th and the 13th days of the first Lunar month and enjoy singing.

Mua Vu Lan, or Mother’s Day

Some people in Nietnam call it «Mother’s Day», the other holiday name is Trung Nguyen – the day of lost souls. It is the second largest festival in Vietnam after Tet. According to the legend, Buddha’s pupil Muc Kien saw his mother suffering from hell’s tortures. He asked Buddha for advice and then was praying for the mother’s relieve. This festival takes place on the second day of the 7th month according the Lunar calendar. Members of families get together on this day and express gratitude and love to their ancestors. If somebody’s mother is already dead, this person wears white clothes; if mummy is alive, children wear red clothes. It is a unique tradition in this country.

Hungry Ghost festival

Vietnamese believe that there is a day in Lunar calendar, when spirits of their ancestors can come to the world of the living and visit their homes. Wandering Souls Day takes place on the 15th day of the seventh Lunar month. Rice cakes, sugarcane, fruits are prepared in every family, people bring it to the temples in order to please restless souls.

July is the month of wandering souls in Vietnam

The whole month (July) is time for veneration of the dead in Vietnam. It is believed that ancestors, buried incorrectly or without respect, are wandering in the world of living with swearing. Most Vietnamese truly believe that these angry spirits can hurt them, and they don’t plan anything serious, don’t go travelling in July.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival

The event is held on the fifteenth day of the 8th month in Lunar calendar, when the Moon is most full. Mid-Autumn Festival is a holiday mainly for kids: parents and relatives buy lanterns, snacks, beautiful masks and other funny presents for children. Many cultural performances, lectures, trade fairs, carnivals take place during this festival.

Giong Festival

This annual Vietnamese festival is devoted to «Saint Giong» – the mythical national hero. Thanh Giong was protecting the country from foreign enemies in ancient times, and this hero is very esteemed in Vietnam. During the festival Vietnamese demonstrate martial arts, spirit of patriotism is felt everywhere, people express their freedom-loving. The festival takes place in all northern provinces of Vietnam, but the most typical celebrating takes place in Phu Dong village. If it rains after the festival, it is a sign of the future bumpier crop in the country: rain means that Thanh Giong has blessed the fields.

Whales Festival

This event takes place in Da Nang province in Vietnam, and this is a big festival of fishermen. During Cau Ngu Festival (Vietnamese name) the fishermen pay respect to the Whale – as they believe, this giant creature is their companion and helper during dangerous voyages. First, people go to Nam Hai Whale Temple, after that they go to the sea and welcome the whales. People believe that if they celebrate the holiday with huge reference, their sea journeys will be safe and they will have great fishing results.

European Holidays in Vietnam

Christmas

This date isn’t very important for many people in Vietnam. Only a small group of Catholic celebrate it, and shops’ owners seize the moment to sell gifts.

A large number of Catholic left the country in 1954, after going away of French colonizers. There is Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Shi Minh, it was built at the end of the XIX century. The building is very beautiful – it is made of pink brick. Christmas is celebrated in this cathedral, and even it is permitted to listen to church music sitting on scooters on the square in front of the building.

During Christmas and Gregorian New Year there are big corporate parties of foreign companies – they are organized for customers. Loud speeches are pronounced in honor of partnership and successful business.

Saint Valentine’s Day

Everybody buys sweets, flowers (roses are the most popular), perfume – and it happens in the country, where work ethic and commitment of the nation are on the first place! Young people, students buy Valentine cards, although the card’s price can be very high, as their daily salary.

The 8th of March

There two women’s holidays in Vietnam – the 8th of March and an official date of October 20. All Vietnamese women get presents from relatives, husbands and friends in these days. There are two women’s museums in Vietnam – they are in Hanoi and in Ho Shi Minh.

This holiday is celebrated just as in Russia: a lot of flowers are being sold and bought everywhere, prices are increasing five times more. But anyway men buy flowers in order to please their ladies.

By the way, in an ordinary day one rose costs 5 000 VND, it’s rather expensive, but the bouquet will be awful… If you want to buy a beautiful bouquet, you can write or call our friends – Art Bouquet (Instagram).

In conclusion

There are a lot of holidays and festivals in Vietnam, national and influenced by fashion. It is very pleasant to watch these events and of course to take part in it. Taking part in Vietnamese holidays and festivals, you will be able to immerse yourself into the culture of this mysterious ancient country.

Please write in the comments, if you have any pleasant experience of celebrating holidays in a foreign country. Whose cultural traditions did you memorize very well?

Polina
Author
Polina
Since 2013, we live with a spouse in different countries, including China, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. I dance, teach pole dance and write about our travel.
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