Journeys of Gods, Family Ancestors main content.

Journeys of Gods, Family Ancestors

Part of the Vietnam exhibition.

Celebrating Tet in Hanoi

Young women light sparklers on Tet eve.
Ellen Kaplowitz

For the Kinh, the Hoa (Chinese), and some other ethnic groups living in Vietnam, the year's journey begins with Tet, the lunar New Year. The transition between the old and new years occurs at a precise moment—midnight on the 30th day of the 12th lunar month—but this joyous celebration unfolds over many weeks.

In the weeks before Tet, city-dwellers journey to their home villages with gifts for their relatives and offerings for ancestors. People clean and paint their houses, pay old debts, and purchase new clothes, household goods, and holiday foods in order to start the year off right. Flowering peach blossoms and mandarin orange trees decorate homes, because Tet also welcomes the spring season.

On Tet eve, families honor their ancestors at household altars and share the year's last meal. The first person to enter the home after midnight is carefully chosen to set the luck for the year.

Couplet board and ancestral altar reproduction.
Denis Finnin / AMNH

The Ancestral Altar: Sacred Center of a Home

The family altar is the most respected place in the home. At the altar, Kinh and Hoa (Chinese) people honor their ancestors with offerings on special days in the lunar calendar, on the anniversaries of the ancestors' deaths, and on the first and fifteenth of each month. Families often ask their ancestors for assistance before undertaking major family events, such as building a new house, starting a new business, or considering marriage. The eldest son's family is expected to maintain the ancestral altar in his home.