Spring festivals (Jan–April)
Tet The most important date in the Vietnamese festival calendar is New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan). After an initial jamboree, Tet is largely a family occasion when offices are shut, and many shops and restaurants may close for the seven-day festival. Officially only the first four days are public holidays, though many people take the whole week. First to seventh days of first lunar month; late January to mid-February.
Tay Son Festival Martial arts demonstrations in Tay Son District, plus garlanded elephants on parade. Fifth day of first lunar month; late January to mid-February.
Water-Puppet Festival As part of the Tet celebrations a festival of puppetry is held at Thay Pagoda, west of Hanoi. Fifth to seventh days of first lunar month; February.
Lim Singing Festival Two weeks after Tet, Lim village near Bac Ninh, in the Red River Delta, resounds to the harmonies of “alternate singing” (quan ho) as men and women fling improvised lyrics back and forth. Thirteenth to fifteenth days of the first lunar month; February–March.
Hai Ba Trung Festival The two Trung sisters are honoured with a parade and dancing at Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung temple. Sixth day of the second lunar month; March.
Perfume Pagoda Vietnam’s most famous pilgrimage site is Chua Huong, west of Hanoi. Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims flock to the pagoda for the festival, which climaxes on the full moon (fourteenth or fifteenth day) of the second month, though the pilgrimage continues for a month either side; March–April.
Den Ba Chua Kho The full moon of the second month sees Hanoians congregating at this temple near Bac Ninh, to petition the goddess for success in business; March–April.
Thanh Minh Ancestral graves are cleaned and offerings of food, flowers and paper votive objects made at the beginning of the third lunar month; April.
Summer festivals (May–Aug)
Phat Dan Lanterns are hung outside the pagodas and Buddhist homes to commemorate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana. Eighth day of the fourth lunar month; May.
Chua Xu Festival The stone statue of Chua Xu at Sam Mountain, Chau Doc, is bathed, and thousands flock to honour her. Twenty-third to twenty-fifth day of fourth lunar month; May.
Tet Doan Ngo The summer solstice (fifth day of the fifth moon) is marked by festivities aimed at warding off epidemics brought on by the summer heat. This is also the time of dragon-boat races; late May to early June.
Trang Nguyen (or Vu Lan) The day of wandering souls is the second most important festival after Tet. Offerings of food and clothes are made to comfort and nourish the unfortunate souls without a home, and all graves are cleaned. This is also time for the forgiveness of faults, when the King of Hell judges everyone’s spirits and metes out reward or punishment as appropriate. Until the fifteenth century prisoners were allowed to go home on this day. Fourteenth or fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month; August.
Autumn festivals (Sept–Dec)
Do Son Buffalo-fighting Festival Held in Do Son village, near Hai Phong. Ninth and tenth days of the eighth lunar month; August.
Kate Festival The Cham New Year is celebrated in high style at Po Klong Garai and Po Re Me, both near Phan Rang; September–October.
Trung Thu The mid-autumn festival, also known as Children’s Day, is when dragon dances take place and children are given lanterns in the shape of stars, carp or dragons. Special cakes, banh trung thu, are eaten at this time of year. These are sticky rice cakes filled with lotus seeds, nuts and candied fruits and are either square like the earth (banh deo), or round like the moon (banh nuong) and containing the yolk of an egg. Fourteenth or fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month; September–October.
Whale Festival Lang Ca Ong, Vung Tau. Crowds gather to make offerings to the whales. Sixteenth day of the eighth lunar month; September–October.
Oc Bom Boc Festival Boat-racing festival in Soc Trang. Tenth day of tenth lunar month; November–December.
Da Lat Flower Festival An annual extravaganza in which the city shows off the abundance of blooms grown locally; December.
Christmas Midnight services at the cathedrals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and much revelry in the streets; December 24.