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Lê Hương & Vân Anh

Việt Nam News chats with some foreigners about their Tết (Lunar New Year) experience in Việt Nam.

Saadi Salama, Ambassador of Palestine to Việt Nam

This is my 19th Tết in Việt Nam in the past 40 years that I have a close relationship with the country and 18 years I have worked and resided in Việt Nam between the periods of 1980-1984, 1989-1992 and since 2010 up to present.

My first Tết in Việt Nam impressed me most and I will never forget it. In the last lunar day in the 1980s, I saw strange things in Việt Nam that I had not seen in the previous three months.

I took a walk around the Old Quarter. I watched branches of peach blossoms and tried to understand their meaning. The last lunar day of that year was a special day when people flocked to Hoàn Kiếm Lake to welcome the Lunar New Year. At that time, on New Year’s Eve, the sound of crackers echoed here and there all over the city brought me strange feelings. I started to understand more about Vietnamese customs.

A friend of mine told me on the first day of the new year, I should not invite anyone home or go out as people care a lot about the first person to enter their home.

I think the atmosphere of the Tết in 1980-85 was more cheerful and meaningful even than today as Tết was a chance for people to enjoy what they have done in the past year.

Salama is the ambassador with the longest tenure in Hà Nội. Photo courtesy of the ambassador

Industrialisation is an encouraging sign for economic growth but it also contributed to the fading of traditional Tết features.

Vietnamese Tết has national features, not religious features like in Palestine. But both peoples take great care of family reunions, enjoy parties together, wish one another good luck and give one another lucky money.

I can describe Vietnamese Tết in some words: solidarity, humanity, kindness and forgiveness.

Though Tết happens on only some days, but during that time, everyone wants to return home to welcome the new year with their families. From mountains to busy cities, all ethnic groups in the country long for the traditional Tết festival and maintain the customs. That’s the solidarity.

When the Lunar New Year arrives, people forget sorrows, hatred, spare good words to one another and share things with needy people. That’s the humanity and forgiveness of the Tết.

I hope Việt Nam will maintain her success in dealing with the pandemic so that in the new lunar new year we will return to normal life as before the pandemic. Việt Nam has been a good example in not only controlling COVID-19 but also in gaining a considerable GDP growth in comparison with other nations.

I hope 2021 will be a year that the whole world will be free of COVID and live in peace.

As a Palestinian, I desire peace for my country as that in Việt Nam.

Amanda Carlea, Canadian, content manager, Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board

My first Tết in Việt Nam was back in 2015, it was a marvel to witness.

The excitement of everyone and the transformation of the city (especially the traffic!) was quite a whirlwind.

I still love to this day when the cherry blossom branches start appearing all over Hà Nội.

To me, it’s a sign of some well earned time off and the anticipation of a new lunar year. I usually love to spend my Tết exploring a new place in Việt Nam, when the roads are empty and people flock to their hometowns.

Amanda Carlea enjoys Tết in Phú Yên. Photo courtesy of Amanda

I find the spirit of Tết is always so very generous and welcoming.

One Tết I spent in Sa Pa my guide was constantly providing me with shots of rice wine mid-hike and answering his calls with “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!”

When in Phú Yên Province, I was the first guest at a city hotel and shared snacks and tea with the family in the morning.

That afternoon, I went to Bãi Môn beach and sat in the sunshine reading, before an older gentleman offered me lì xì and gave me a handshake and kind words. I love the sense of a new beginning at Tết, so much so I stopped caring as much about New Year’s Eve, as it’s not the real deal until Tết arrives!

I hope this year we will see the outbreak in Việt Nam fully contained, reunite with friends and travel again freely and safely. I will spend mine at home in Hà Nội, going for walks and enjoying the time I have with my partner.

Sonya Firsova, Russian, singer

This year’s Tết will be our third in Việt Nam.

Our first Tết holiday was in 2018 in HCM City. That year HCM was very beautiful during Tết, the whole Nguyễn Huệ walking street was filled with beautiful flowers plants and statues made of flowers.

All people were wearing beautiful colourful áo dài and it was really one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.

During the Tết holidays, almost all families were singing karaoke at home and having a wonderful time together. The second Tết holiday was last year in Hà Nội.

It was also very beautiful and colourful, people were walking around Hoàn Kiếm Lake and there were many festive occasions in different parts of Hà Nội. However, the festive occasions were abrupted very quickly due to COVID-19.

Sonya in Hàng Lược Flower Market. Courtesy Photo of the singer

So the end of Tết was very quiet.

This year is my third Tết in Việt Nam and we’ll celebrate it in Hà Nội.

Before I thought this year’s Tết will be very loud and full of people, but because of the new COVID-19 wave it seems like this year’s Tết will be a quiet Tết.

However I still see many people preparing for Tết as usual, cleaning their houses, buying Tết special goods and food, so hopefully, everyone will still have a very wonderful time during this Tết and have a warm and happy time at home with their families.

For me, Tết has become a very special occasion. I feel it is like a celebration of spring coming, blooming of the flowers and new intentions/dreams. I even recorded a Tết song Như Hoa Mùa Xuân to be part of this beautiful festival.

This year I had a chance to try bánh chưng, as well as mứt and ô mai for the first time. I will also cook bánh chưng with my Vietnamese friend and her family. Now I live in the same house with a Vietnamese family, so maybe I can celebrate Tết with them and sing beautiful Vietnamese and Russian songs together.

If I have a chance I might go and buy some special beautiful áo dài dress, to feel like I’m part of this amazing celebration even more.

Lee Banghyun, Korean, strategy planning manager of Everon

I’m planning to spend more time with close friends and family. Initially, I had plans to travel outside of Hà Nội but under current circumstances, it’s better to stay within Hà Nội and maybe go on nearby trips with my friends. 

As a resident of Hà Nội, I’m familiar with Tết gifts that Vietnamese exchange with one another. But without being invited to family houses it would be difficult to actually experience the authentic Vietnamese Tết culture, so I haven’t experienced it so far.

Exchanging gifts between friends for Tết is definitely different from Korea and I really like this local culture. Koreans are now busy making overseas travel plans over Lunar New Year so taking time and effort to relate to others during Tết in Viet Nam makes the holiday more special.

For the new year, I wish a cleaner Hà Nội to everyone. I think one benefit of COVID-19 is that it reduced the pollution level of the city and made a huge difference to the quality of living. I hope this year Hà Nội and all Vietnamese cities can keep cleaner air, water, etc… without the help of COVID-19, to benefit all its residents, including me. 

Lee Banghyun (second from left) and his family gathering over Tết in Việt Nam in the past. Photo courtesy of Lee Banghyun

Vanessa Muhlheim, French, news copyeditor and presenter

I’ve been living in Việt Nam for more than 10 years so I know Tết.

For me Tết is a little bit like Christmas holidays, it’s a time for family members to gather and spend some time together, to break bread and share a big meal.

For my first Tết, I remember going to the flower market in Nhật Tân and being completely mesmerised by the landscape. It was truly breathtaking.

I usually spend Tết at my husband’s place and we always have amazing food, the mâm cỗ is usually insanely big and I got to try so many different dishes that you usually don’t get to taste during the year.

Vanessa Muhlheim in her beloved áo dài. Photo courtesy of Vanessa

I also particularly enjoy seeing all the women wearing áo dài for the occasion, it’s such a beautiful garment.

One of the things however that I dislike about the Tết holidays is that everything just kind of freezes. Almost all the shops, cafés and restaurants close down. And the weather is usually rainy and cold, it’s a bit depressing.

Last year because of COVID-19, Tết lasted a very long time, almost six months!

Jokes aside but this year our family is thinking about maybe going to the beach, Hội An or Phú Quốc for a change. France is more for our Christmas holidays or for summer vacations.

During Tết I usually help my mother in law with shopping and cooking. I also want my children to understand the tradition so that they both grow up knowing about both Vietnamese and French culture.

On the first day of the new year, we traditionally go back to my husband’s countryside and meet up with the big family. Everybody wears áo dài, me and my daughter as well, and the kids get to have lucky money. It’s a lot of fun. It’s the highlight of our Tết holidays really.

Holly Coles, Australian, self-employed movement educator

This will be my first Tết here. 

While people tend to overindulge in feasts over the New Year, I am going in the opposite direction, with a plan to do a seven to 10 day pure fast that consists of only water. Partly because it’s a good time of the year when gyms are closed and the weather isn’t good for outdoor exercise, it’s an appropriate time for laying low and fasting and also it’s a good emotional and mental cleanse.

Having lived in China for more than five years, it’s not my first time experiencing Lunar New Year, however, I prefer staying in rather than travelling because I love how the city becomes blissfully quiet.

Holly posing against a background set up with distinct Tết elements at a yoga studio. Photo courtesy of Holly Coles

As a business owner I usually worked through the holidays – it was a good time to catch up without any distractions.

I’m not a fan of overconsumption so I forgo big celebrations. People consume more of the planet than necessary, resulting in too much waste with plastic packaging. It lasts two seconds for pleasure and unfortunately a lifetime as landfill. With my strong guidelines on health and minimalism, my wishes to anyone and everyone with celebrations is to be more conscious, maybe even shifting to celebrating in ways like donating time or money to charitable causes, or just enjoying time with family without the hyper-consumption.

Cory Michaud, American, owner of Zenith Restaurant

As Tết approaches it’s hard not to sense a certain feeling of excitement in the air. Local people seem to be cheerful about the possibilities of the new year around the corner and the opportunity to break away from everyday life and travel home for the special holiday.

This Tết I will be working in the cafe, hoping to feed the folks who aren’t able to travel home or go on holiday due to the COVID-19 resurgence.  

Cory Michaud will work in his cafe thís Tết. Photo courtesy of Cory Michaud

This year will be my first experience of Tết in Việt Nam. Last year I was in Thailand, Chiang Mai. The city was lively and full of visitors from around Asia.

I’m looking forward to experiencing Tết the Vietnamese way. I have a few friends who have invited me to their home to share a family dinner with them during Tết. It will be nice to learn about the local traditions and taste all the interesting (and delicious) delicacies made specifically for the holidays.

I think my wish for this new year is for 2021 to be full of healing. Hopefully by the end of this year, globally we can get back to some sense of “normal”, so this time next year we can all travel worry-free and spend time with our families. VNS

This content was originally published here.

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