TẾT prelude

Tết festival; the lunar new year, a huge celebration in Vietnam and in other asian countries falling on the 27/28. January this year; a time where people are busy cleaning houses, steaming rice cakes, making sugar coated fruit candies, getting a new hairstyle, sewing new clothes, buying presents – many presents.

Strangely, I do not remember much of Tet during my teenage years in Vietnam, but I do remember clearly the Tet feeling during my childhood. Back then, when meat was barely affordable, a cooked chicken for Tet was the most precious thing on the table and kids were receiving a few hundreds Dong (VND) in red envelopes.

I remember sitting on the back of mum’s moped buying a gigantic red balloon, buying a huge watermelon. I remember hearing the drums of dragon dancers everywhere and I, particularly, remember the red fire crackers hanging meters long in front of everyone’s house.

Since a long time Tet has changed, at least for me. In Vietnam, we are not allowed to burn our own fire crackers anymore, instead we have fireworks by the government. Without the red fire crackers, the smell of black powder and the red paper covered streets next day, Tet feeling lost a huge deal for me. And personally fireworks is not Tet… that’s western new years eve, whilst red fire crackers belong to Tet – the pumpumpum sounds going on for minutes at each house.

Additionally, life standard has increased. Luckily, of course, but since we over eat everyday.. having better income results in having festive meal as we want… the special dishes for Tet lost its excitement. Though, in the countryside the situation might differ, as well as for the poor ones in this society. Actually, I question myself if poor people can afford anything??? The prices are ridiculous.

On another note, what was once a few hundred VND to buy candies are now reaching millions, not to mention double digit mils. Some are giving it because they can or are close enough; some are giving such amount with secondary thoughts. In fact, Tet has partially been used as an excuse “to use the back door”. For instance, teachers at school or university do receive a great amount of presents in hope for better grades, in hope to extend a deadline, in hope to be able to get a position etc.. The boss receive expensive liquor or their kids receive a big envelop, in hope to be promoted or what not. I am not stating that everyone is mis-using Tet celebration nor am I saying  every person who receive “non-deniable presents” during this time of the year is going to overlook the law or the truth, but there are and there will still be cases as such.

The sad thing is just, that Tet became tragic and expensive for some people and the meaning of giving presents as gratitude and blessings during Tet is tainted. For some years a person is overwhelmed by food and presents because he/she is “of use”, but as soon as he/she is not useful anymore (like a retired CEO), you barely see those “visitors” again. It’s sad, because the human relationship lacks depth, emotions and feelings, are short lived and lack in soul.

For me Tet does not have to be pompous, does not require big and expensive presents or exorbitantly overpriced liquor. It’s the gesture and love one share is what matters. Think of one another, passing by with a small basket of fruits and send warm greetings/blessing is enough.

Tet is in the end a quality time to spend with your family, your beloved friends; a time to remember your ancestors; a time to forget past troubles and wishing for a better upcoming year.




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