Life in Vietnam

Sunday, 28/01/2018 10:39

Going away to celebrate a Tết homecoming

Illustration by Trinh Lap
Viet Nam News

By Thuy Binh

Tet (Lunar New Year) will always be a time for Vietnamese families to get together, pay obeisance to ancestors, the Kitchen Gods and other deities, cook special dishes, wear new clothes, present gifts, visit friends and relatives and receive special guests in the belief that they are a harbinger of good times.

But things have also changed, and will continue to change. In recent years, the traditional national holiday is no longer the usual three-day affair. It has lengthened to between a week and ten days. And this extra space has created opportunities for families to travel outward, to other places in the country and beyond, giving the festival a completely different flavour.  

Whenever changes happen, there will be people who bemoan the loss of traditions and those who embrace the opportunity to broaden their horizons.

And both sides of this “argument” carry merit.

Despite the new opportunities, many people prefer staying at home to tend to the ancestral altar, visit relatives and receive visitors. 

My relative is not one of them. A resident of Ha Noi, she has booked a tour to Japan for her four-member family. This is the second year her family has traveled abroad during the festival.  

"I’m afraid that all the tours will run out as Tet comes very close," said Le Thanh Hang, "It takes time to complete exit and entry formalities for travelling abroad and I don’t want to miss out," she said. 

Living with her husband’s family after marriage, Hang had no chance to celebrate Tet the way she wanted, in the initial years. She had to help her mother-in-law to cook and prepare traditional dishes for ancestor worship. 

"But it’s over. My husband is too busy at the office and my children have an even tighter schedule with their studies. So the long holiday on Tet is a very good time for my family to travel," Hang said. 

Nguyen Hien Phuong, another resident of the capital city, also wants to take her family to other places. Her family has already travelled to many northern mountainous provinces such as Ha Giang, Lao Cai and Yen Bai during the festival.

But this year, Phuong will travel to Phu Quoc Island in the southern province of Kien Giang. “Hopefully, we will not only have time to relax, but also get to know more about culture and Tet customs in a new place.

"My family enjoyed the New Year celebration customs of the Mong ethnic group when we visited Lao Cai for Tet in 2016," Phuong said. "They make the banh day (round rice cake), instead of the banh chung (square-sticky rice cake) of the Kinh people."

"All of us know about banh chung and banh day which are symbolic of the sun and the moon. But now, we only prepare banh chung for Tet. The trip to Lao Cai helps my teenage kids know about banh day," she said.

Phuong says her family’s trips have also been a learning experience.

"We enjoy knowing more about the different ways in which people in other areas welcome Tet, she said, referring to earlier travels within the country.

More and more people, especially the well off, are choosing to travel rather than stay at home. This does not mean that they ignore our customs. But they see no need to impose constraints on their family having a good time.

Now, it is not just young people or the nuclear family that have the choice to travel during the Tet holiday, the extended family has also jumped on the bandwagon.

Normally, Tet tours cost much higher than normal tours, but people are willing to spend that extra money. According to surveys by many tourism companies, travelling abroad has become a trend in recent years. Tours to Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are favoured the most, followed by Japan, South Korea and China. 

"Of late, tourism companies have increased the tours on offer, adding new destinations abroad," said Doan Thi Thanh Tra, Saigontourist’s marketing and communication director. "Travelling to famous places inside and outside Viet Nam on Tet has become a trend. Many Vietnamese enjoy staying with their families to celebrate Tet at resorts far away".

As remarked earlier, there are people who see Tet as a rare chance for family members to return to their homeland. Young writer Nguyen Ngoc Thach feels young people not returning home from far away to meet their family during the festival is a selfish act.

"Many young people feel Tet is boring and they want to escape the traditional festival," said Thach. "Maybe they feel happy to celebrate Tet far away their family, but they will make their parents and their relatives sad," said Thach.

True, but we should remember that travelling during Tet with all family members in the first days of the New Year is also a good Vietnamese custom.

"My family began to travel during Tet in 2010," said Dang Hoang, a resident of Hue Street in Ha Noi. "My family takes off on the second day of Lunar New Year with all members, grandparents, parents and children. We even call other families, including relatives, to join us."

Hoang, a businessman, believes in visiting pagoda and praying for a good year for his business. So he always chooses places with beautiful pagodas or temples to visit.

We don’t have to take sides, in this matter, I feel. We should welcome the tradition as well as the break from it, ensuring that the latter does not impinge or detract or undermine the former.

Tet, most of all, is a time for togetherness, cohesiveness. We should maintain that, no matter what we choose to do and how we choose to enjoy this auspicious occasion. — VNS


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