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Holidays

holidays and festivals

Calendar

Holiday 2019 2020 2021 Affected
New Year’s Day Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 g, b, o, some r
Vietnamese New Year (Tet) Feb. 2 Jan. 26 Feb. 13 g, b, o, some r
Hung Kings’ Day April 14 April 2 April 21 g, b, o, some r
Liberation Day/Reunification Day/Victory Day April 30 April 30 April 30 g, b, o, some r
Labor Day May 1 May 1 May 1 g, b, o, some r
Phat Dan Day/Buddha Day (Vesak) May 19 May 7 May 26 none
Wandering Souls Day (Tet Trung Nguyen/Ram Thang Bay) Aug. 15 Sept. 2 Aug. 22 none
National Day Sept. 2 Sept. 2 Sept. 2 g, b, o, some r
Christmas Day Dec. 25 Dec. 25 Dec. 25 none
Key:
g = government offices and institutions
b = banks and financial institutions
o = non-retail businesses/offices
r = retail businesses
New Year’s Day

Date(s):
January 1
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retail
Description:
Celebrates the first day of the new year.
Background:
Ancient civilizations marked their years with the seasons, celebrating the beginning of a new year at the time of the vernal or autumnal equinox, or sometimes at the winter solstice. Roman emperor Julius Caesar revised the calendar to start the year on January 1, and the Gregorian calendar we use today follows suit.
How Celebrated:
Although it’s not nearly as popular as Tet (Vietnam’s lunar New Year), the international New Year is considered a public holiday in the country, and banks, public offices, and some businesses close for the day.

Vietnamese New Year (Tet)

Date(s):
First day of the year in the traditional lunar calendar, usually falling in late January or early to mid-February
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retail
Description:
Celebration of the lunar New Year, lasting at least three days.
Background:
Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, means "Feast of the First Morning." The most important holiday in Vietnam, Tet combines Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and everybody's birthday into one festive occasion.
As Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet for short) approaches, various gods supposedly make their way to heaven to visit the Jade Emperor (supreme Taoist deity) to pay their respects and report on household affairs on earth. Tradition holds that locals pay for the deities’ traveling expenses by burning ritual paper money for them and releasing carp into the lakes to act as their steeds. Like the Chinese New Year, the customs followed on Vietnamese New Year are intended to ensure good fortune and prosperity in the year to come. Tet and Chinese New Year occasionally fall on different dates because the geographical differences between Hanoi and Beijing affect the relevant astronomical calculations. Another difference is that the Vietnamese zodiac has a cat instead of a rabbit. Both holidays, however, welcome the spring and cause widespread, extended celebrations.
How Celebrated:
Weeks before the holiday, the streets of Vietnam come alive with festive Tet decorations: hoax mai (a yellow spring blossom), kumquat trees, flowering peach trees (symbols of life and good fortune), lights, and banners reading Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year). Vietnamese families set up a cay neu (bamboo pole), the New Year’s tree, which they wrap in lucky red paper and decorate with good luck charms like origami fish, clay bells, or cactus branches. To attract the Goddess of Fortune, people buy new clothes to wear, and clean or decorate their homes to look as good as new. Since shops close down during Tet, people are in a flurry during the preceding weeks to buy all the items they need for their New Year’s feast and gifts. It is customary for Vietnamese people to give delicacies to the people they want to impress. A popular holiday treat is mut (dried sugar-candied fruits), which comes in different flavors such as apricot, cherry, ginger, and tomato. Extended family members gather for a reunion during the Tet holiday. At the stroke of midnight on Tet eve, people light firecrackers, strike gongs, and make loud noises to scare away the spirits. Doors and windows in Vietnamese households are left open to let the old year out and the new year in. More Tet celebrations take place the next day with parades, dragon dances, fireworks, parties, and social activities involving elaborate feasts. In the days that follow, people visit temples to pray for prosperity and health, exchange gifts with one another, and give gifts of lucky money in red envelopes to children. To start the new year well, people try to avoid harsh words or conflict.

Hung Kings’ Day/Hung Vuong Day

Date(s):
Ninth to eleventh day of the third month of the lunar calendar
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retail
Description:
Public holiday that honors the 18 Hung Kings, the nation’s founding fathers. The actual ceremony takes place on the tenth day.
Background:
Tradition holds that the Hung Dynasty of 18 kings (2879–258 BCE) founded the Vietamese nation. The Bach Viet ethnic group in Vietnam has celebrated the Hung Kings’ Festival at the Nghia Linh Mountain, 85 kilometers from Hanoi, for many years. Hundred of other temples are dedicated to the kings. In March 2007, the Vietnamese National Assembly made Hung Kings’ Day a public holiday. The date is supposed to be the death anniversary of the first Hung King, Hung Vuong I (Vuong means "king"). Legend has it that Lang Lieu, son of the 18th Hung King, offered two kinds of rice cakes to his father – round to represent the sky, and square to represent the earth. Since then, the banh chung (square rice cakes) and banh giay (rice pies) have been an essential part of the Hung Kings’ and Tet Festivals.
How Celebrated:
Before Hung Kings’ Day takes place, festive flags line the road from Viet Tri to Hung Mountain where the Hung Kings’ Temple stands. On the night before the festival, 100 flying lights are released into the night sky. The following day, the main ritual service is held, starting with incense burning, a flower ceremony, and a five-fruit feast. The sticky rice cakes (banh chung and banh giay) are filled with mung bean paste and meat and wrapped in a layer of banana leaves. Along with the fruits, flowers, and incense, the rice cakes are offered during a ritual service for the Hung Kings. The rice cakes symbolize the great contribution of the Hung Kings who taught the people to plant and grow rice.

The Hung Kings’ festival provides a variety of entertainment from the traditional (rice-cooking and baking contests, elephant marches, water puppets, dragon dancing) to the modern (photography exhibitions and fashion shows). People come dressed in colorful costumes from different regions. The air is filled with traditional music, classical song performances, and bronze drum performances. Sporting competitions like human chess, boat races, wrestling matches, cross-bow shooting, swinging contests, and cock fighting add spice to the festivities. Around the area in Viet Tri City, a Hung Kings’ Fair is held with more than 100 businesses selling handicrafts in bazaars. At the end of the festival, representatives of the different ethnic minorities in Vietnam release doves as a symbol of peace for the country. In 2007, to mark the first year that the festival was a public holiday, residents of Ho Chi Minh city organized a ceremony where they offered a sticky rice cake weighing over 2 tons for the Hung Kings. The massive banh chung wrapped in leaves was made from 1,000 kilograms of sticky rice, green peas and meat. After the ceremonial offering to the Kings, the cake was cut up and served to the guests.

Liberation Day/Reunification Day/Victory Day

Date(s):
April 30
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retail
Description:
Commemorates the anniversary of the fall of Saigon and reunification of Vietnam in 1975.
Background:
In 1954, Ho Chi Minh’s followers defeated French troops and established an independent Vietnamese state, which became North Vietnam. Twenty years of struggle between Communist-backed North Vietnam and U.S.-backed South Vietnam ensued. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese troops and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) captured Saigon (later renamed Ho Chi Minh City), the capital of South Vietnam. This "Fall of Saigon" signaled the end of the Vietnam War and began the transition period towards Vietnam’s unification under Communist rule.
How Celebrated:
Vietnamese leaders, state officials, and foreign dignitaries attend formal ceremonies, which include military parades and marches at the historic Reunification Palace. The Reunification or Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City was the residence of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. The official turnover of power from the Fall of Saigon took place there.

Labor Day

Date(s):
May 1
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retail
Description:
A day to honor the working class and their contributions to society.
Background:
The celebration of Labor Day originated with "the eight-hour-day movement," which advocated balance in a worker’s day: eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. An 1886 labor rally in Chicago promoting the eight-hour workday ended with the death of several demonstrators in the "Haymarket Riot." The international socialist movement declared May 1 as the date to commemorate those who died for the cause and to celebrate the workers’ struggle.
How Celebrated:
With International Labor Day coming one day after the April 30 Liberation Day holiday, Vietnamese workers are guaranteed a long holiday. The flags, bunting, and banners on houses and public areas remain, and many cities have separate Labor Day celebrations in their public plazas.

Phat Dan Day/Buddha Day (Vesak)

Date(s):
Eighth to fifteenth days of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, usually in May
Closures:
None
Description:
Phat Dan Day (known as Vesak in many other countries) commemorates the birthday of the Buddha. It is the most holy time in the Buddhist calendar and the most important festival in Buddhism. On this day, Buddhists all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha in a single day.
Background:
The decision to agree to celebrate Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (W.F.B.) held in Sri Lanka in 1950. The name Vesak comes from the Indian month of that name in which it takes place.
How Celebrated:
Devotees gather at Buddhist temples and pagodas throughout Vietnam and some bigger towns and cities to take part in the festivities. The streets fill with parades of giant Buddha statues. Songs, drama, and stories recount the life story and wisdom of Buddha. In major cities, charity events are organized to celebrate Buddha’s life.

Day of the Wandering Souls (Tet Trung Nguyen/Ram Thang Bay)

Date(s):
Fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month
Closures:
None
Description:
A day when families pray for the souls of their loved ones so they may enter heaven.
Background:
Tet Trung Nguyen in Vietnam originates from the belief that one’s soul is judged after one’s death. If it is deemed worthy, a soul goes to heaven. But if a person has committed many evil deeds in his or her lifetime, then the soul goes to hell. After sunset on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, spirits are released from the gates of hell for the night. At this time, hungry spirits return to their homes to search for food and visit their families.
How Celebrated:
This Buddhist festival is celebrated in pagodas throughout the country. There family members pray to Buddha to forgive the souls of their departed loved ones. They burn incense, clothes, and money made of votive paper as offerings during ritual ceremonies. To satisfy the cravings of the hungry souls who have not eaten for a whole year, families prepare tables laden with fruits, sticky rice cakes, meat (boiled chicken, roast pork, and crabs), vermicelli soup, and meat rolls. People make sure to offer extra food at the altars in public places for the souls of those who have no living families to return to.

National Day

Date(s):
September 2
Closures:
Government, Banks, Offices, some Retails
Description:
Celebrates the National day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Background:
Vietnam was once part of French Indochina, which was taken over by Japan during World War II. After Japan’s surrender, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France. He read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, before a rally of 500,000 people in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. With this declaration, he proclaimed the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. After several years of war, the French gave up their efforts to reassert control of the area.
How Celebrated:
On this important day, the residents and leaders of Vietnam pay their respects to their national hero Ho Chi Minh and recognize his role in achieving the country’s independence through various commemorative events. Aside from being celebrated widely in Vietnam, the day is also marked with tributes and services in all Vietnamese Embassies across the world. In Hanoi, people come in from the countryside for a day in the big city. Dressed up in their best clothes, they enjoy the exhibitions, parades, and fireworks. Flags, posters, and pictures of Ho Chi Minh add to the festive air and to the Vietnamese citizens’ pride in attaining independence after years of struggle.

Christmas Day

Date(s):
December 25
Closures:
None
Description:
A Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time for sharing traditions and gifts with family and friends.
Background:
Long before the birth of Christ, Europeans celebrated the dark days of December with festivities and fire symbolizing hope for spring and the return of longer days. Although no one is sure exactly when Jesus Christ was born, the 4th-century Pope Julius I declared that December 25 would be the official date to celebrate Christmas. In this way, he introduced a Christian element to the mid-winter festivals. Although most Vietnamese practice Buddhism, Chinese Confucianism, or Japanese Taoism, many residents were converted to Christianity during French rule. Christmas was celebrated openly during French rule, but when the Communists took over in 1975, church-state relations were in conflict. At that time, Catholics were forced to celebrate Christmas in private. In the 1980s, more liberal policies were adopted, and Vietnam started accepting Western influences and ideals. Christmas is now celebrated again with much fanfare by the Christian minority (less than 10 percent of the country’s population). Christmas festivities have also spread to some non-Christian communities in Vietnam.
How Celebrated:
On Christmas Eve, Christians gather for midnight Mass in the northern city of Pat Diem, the spiritual home for seven million Catholics who reside in Vietnam. Children stage a nativity play to honor the birth of Christ or Kato, as he is known locally. Then, families return home for the all-important Christmas dinner. Aside from the traditional Vietnamese fare, people feast on pot roast, turkey, chicken soup, and Christmas pudding. The Western icons of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree have gained popularity in Vietnam, and children leave out stockings or shoes on Christmas Eve to receive gifts. Shops and entertainment centers offer discounts during the Christmas season to take advantage of all the gift buying. In some villages, Christmas street parades are held. In this tropical country, it is fitting that people clad in red Santa Claus costumes and fake beards ride flower-bedecked bicycles and motorcycles, instead of the traditional reindeer-led sleigh.