Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration, is one of Vietnam’s most treasured traditions.
At an international organisation like RMIT Vietnam, with staff from 27 different nations around the globe, it’s a time to share in the richness of Vietnamese culture, and to take the time to regenerate with friends and loved ones.
Two of our staff members shared with us their experience of Tết in Vietnam.
Dreaming of a family Tết
"Tết, tết, tết đến rồi…” The traditional Tết song rings a bell in my heart while I wait for the bus that will take me home for the New Year celebrations.
The bell in my heart sings a song about family: “Mom, I’m coming home! Dad, I will be your beautiful daughter for the Tết holiday, as beautiful as the blossoms you’ve placed in the centre of the living room. Brothers, sisters, I am ready, with cakes, jams, and plenty of red wine for us to relax on New Year’s Eve and talk about our achievements of the passing year.”
From all over the city, people gather at the bus station, their ticket in hand, and wait for their bus so they can join their families in their home towns. Some rush to the ticket booth and beg for a ticket - maybe they were too busy to book earlier, and now they risk missing out. I watch them and hope that, finally, they will get to their hometowns for their Tết holiday with their family.
As I wait, I imagine my sisters are cleaning the house, my dad is sitting by the big, smoky pot of Bánh Chưng, and my mother is busy preparing all her special foods to honour our ancestors.
I remember as if it were yesterday, as children we would get ourselves ready in our new red clothes, and sit excitedly waiting for the lucky money from our elders. After that, my dad would set off the fireworks… they were so amazing! Like magic.
Finishing up with a warm, intimate party, we would tell each other our achievements for the past year, and give our best wishes to each other for the new one. I can’t wait to do that again this year.
In Vietnam, Tết is a special time for family.
In Vietnam, Tết is a great beginning for the new year.
In Vietnam, Tết is always the best chance to gather side by side, review the past and share our hopes for a bright future.
Van Thi Thanh Tuyen (Tess), Study Abroad Program.
Home away from home
Like many of the expat staff at RMIT who have Vietnamese partners, I have personal experience of a Vietnamese family Tết. My wife comes from a small village roughly half way on the road between Hanoi and Halong Bay. During this holiday, the local diaspora return from far and wide, places such as Russia and Taiwan where they can make a better living than in the local rice fields. In some cases, these are fathers who only see their children for two weeks a year. They are not considered as bad parents, just fathers who are trying to do their best for their families.
Everyone converges on the village and the village becomes almost one family. Days are spent motorbiking between different family homes. Every door is permanently open for these two weeks - it is considered rude to close it. Parties are frantic and brief affairs and always, always the same. The same dishes at each one dutifully prepared by the women and in most families the women and children will sit in one area while the men accompany their food with rice wine and beer, drunk down in one hit.
This is repeated to fade over the next few days. Community is reinforced. The best food is put on the family shrine which, this being Northern Vietnam, is looked over by Uncle Ho. Three-in-one coffees are drunk, choco pies lay unopened. Any scepticism that one may feel can be instantly wiped out by a single look at the children’s faces as they receive their lucky money.
Tết is just like Christmas Day, in many ways, but it lasts for several days in a row. Having lived as an expat in several countries, I have become accustomed to fellow expats talking about the ‘strange ways’ of the local population. Though I am sometimes guilty of this myself, it is fairly nonsensical – after all, our host countries had their traditions long before we decided to live and work in their countries and will continue with them long after we have left.
John Wheeler, Upper Intermediate Coordinator, English Language Programs.
*The photo on RMIT University Vietnam News homepage by Duy Dat Tran (firstname.lastname@example.org)*