by Lê Hương, Bảo Ngọc & Seán Nolan
Tết is an exciting occasion for locals and expats alike. We wish you all a happy Lunar New Year.
Grete Lochen, Norwegian Ambassador to Việt Nam
Another Tết is approaching. How time flies! It is very emotional for me to celebrate this fourth Tết in Hà Nội because it will be my last one.
Tết in Việt Nam is like Christmas in Norway – it is the time for family and friends gatherings. I’ve spent most of my Tết in Hà Nội because I’d love to see Hà Nội, particularly at this time.
The city usually looks more beautiful in its “new dress” for Tết with different kinds of flowers, plants, kumquat trees, peach blossoms…
I love to wander in the old quarter and feel the Tết atmosphere in every corner and small alley of the City. I also love to decorate my residence with kumquat trees and peach blossom branches on days before Tết. To me, they are the spirit of Vietnamese Tết.
This year, I will stay in Hà Nội to celebrate Tết with my close friends. I will visit some pagodas and bike around West Lake and Hoàn Kiếm Lake. It will be very relaxing, I am sure.
What a mixed feeling! We have lived with COVID-19 for the second year, which has changed our lives a lot and also the way we hold our celebrations. It is interesting to notice that Hanoians, particularly young families tend to travel more during Tết.
They want to spend their Tết holiday out relaxing and having a good time. It was more international travel before COVID, but due to the pandemic, travel takes place more domestically, with shorter trips and people are more cautious in making their travel arrangements.
In 2021, Norway and Việt Nam celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations and COVID-19 hit Việt Nam more negatively than in 2020. It clearly affected how we could celebrate this milestone between our two countries. Anyhow, we managed to have several hybrid celebratory events during the year.
I also want to congratulate Việt Nam on the excellent fulfilment of your two-year elected membership on the UN Security Council. Last year Norway and Việt Nam were both in the Council.
Việt Nam has shown its proactive role in addressing various important issues such as women, peace and security; mine action; and protection of civilians as well as enhancing the role of regional organisations such as ASEAN in regional peace and stability efforts.
Norway has enjoyed the close dialogue with Việt Nam on these issues which we will continue also after Việt Nam has left the Council both bilaterally and in multilateral forums such as the UN and ASEAN.
As an active sector dialogue partner of ASEAN, Norway values our cooperation with Việt Nam as an influential and proactive ASEAN member state.
We also commend Việt Nam’s ambition to reach the zero-emission target by 2050 and to phase out coal power plants as announced at COP26 in Glasgow last year by Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính. Norway and our businesses stand ready to support you to ensure sustainable and green economic growth.
Tết is the time to hope for the better and the new beginnings.
Chúc mừng Năm mới!
Wayne Worrell, British, English teacher
I remember when I first came to Việt Nam many years ago and wondered what all the hype was about over Tết; it didn’t seem very important to me as a single person just landed in the country, but as time went by, I understood very clearly the meaning of Tết and why it’s important to not only the Vietnamese but also the expat community.
As an expat, I took my holidays for granted like Christmas and new year, which always fell of the same date every year but then realised for Vietnamese, Tết was a combination of all these holidays but only once a year and each year on a different date due to the Lunar calendar, the only time for many that the whole family comes together to bring in the new year.
The lead up to Tết is amazing from buying peach blossom, a mandarin or kumquat tree, new clothes, making “Bánh Chưng” (A traditional sticky rice dish), to cleaning your house, making sure you have plenty of food to welcome people into your home over the festive period, to getting ready a “votive Tết tray” for the first offering of the new year.
Choosing the very first person who will enter your house after midnight for the New Year. This person is supposed to bring happiness and good fortune to the family for the whole year and give lucky money (mainly for young and single people) which is mostly where possible new banknotes given in a red decorative envelope.
It is a time to celebrate with many generations together and a very joyous time. The last two years have been hard for many people due to COVID and the loss of loved ones, and we should all give a special prayer for these people on this special occasion.
Adrian John Leeds, British, freelance photographer
Last year was great in many ways to me. Even though I was separated from my fiancée physically, due to the lockdowns, we grew closer to each other emotionally.
I co-founded and registered a graphic design and branding consultancy business in Việt Nam, The Avenie, with my fiancé. My business partnered with GocCreation, the parent company of An Bien Eatery (Hai Phong Cuisine) and Toong Coworking space (the largest coworking space and community in South East Asia), and I found a way to mostly work from home, meaning not only can I be a present and supportive member of the family, so that the woman of the house doesn’t have to do everything herself, but it also means that if there is another lockdown, I will still be able to work and earn a living.
Adrian (first right) enjoys Tết with his friends. Courtesy Photo of Adrian John Leeds
For this Tết holiday, it’s a little dependent on what will be happening with my fiancée’s kids. If their dad takes care of them over the holiday, we likely book a trip to visit another city in Việt Nam.
Of course, I will take all the necessary COVID tests before travelling and bring all the correct paperwork. I care about the community and the people of Việt Nam and I wouldn’t want to risk exposing anyone to the virus unnecessarily.
If the kids stay with their mum, we will likely just have a few days of family fun together by playing video games or board games, watching movies, stroking the cats and just generally enjoying each other’s company.
We may also visit my fiancé’s mum, where I will try her cooking for the first time.
To be honest, this is not my first Tết in Việt Nam. But every time has been different.
The first time it happened, it was really strange to me because the entire city turned into a “ghost town.” Everywhere was closed and all the streets were empty. It took me a long time to find somewhere open, in the evening, so that I could eat dinner.
It was also nice, because the city became quiet, and I could cross the street more safely as there were far fewer vehicles on the road than usual. The second time, two Vietnamese friends of mine invited me to spend it in their family homes. In one home, I drank some “wine” that the father had made. It nearly killed me!
To be polite, I kept on drinking more. I guess that’s my British side. With the other friend, I sat with her family on the floor in a square while football was playing on the TV in the background.
It surprised me to see that the family were watching TV during mealtime, and even more to my surprise, that man of the house was jumping up and down and screaming at the TV.
Up until this point in my life, I had only seen toddlers doing this! I found all these experiences so strange, interesting and funny. And of course, I tried the Vietnamese New Year’s dish – Chưng Cake… but to me, it’s not a cake at all. I don’t understand why everyone makes so much of it every year.
Half the people I have spoken to, who are all Vietnamese, have admitted to me that they don’t even like the taste. I guess some traditions are hard to die. Maybe this tradition will change in the coming years with the next generation.
My fiancée and her daughter both dislike the taste and plan to not prepare it this year. It’s likely when her daughter grows up she will not even think about making chưng cake. I also don’t follow western traditions as they mostly don’t make sense to me too.
I understand the traditions and why people follow them. But I don’t feel the need to follow traditions just because it’s what everyone else does. I live life in a way that makes sense to me and benefits the people around me. I give presents and treat my loved ones with kindness throughout the year, not just because it’s Christmas, someone’s birthday, Tết, Mother’s Day or any other “special day.”
I don’t wait to be told by the calendar that today is the day to treat my partner with kindness and love because it’s Valentine’s Day. Every day has the potential to be Valentine’s Day.
For 2022, I will approach it with an open mind and heart accepting what comes my way. I will likely get married and move in with my fiancee and her kids. I also plan to save hard during that year with the goal that by the end I will potentially have enough money to buy a property.
Sonya Firsova, Russian, singer and model
The thing I love the most about Tết is the festive vibe everywhere: the streets are decorated, there are many Tết installations made of flowers and beautiful statues; people sell and buy Tết food/gifts/flowers, and peach and kumquat trees everywhere – so beautiful.
And I love the mood of all the people – very special, a bit busy with shopping, but relieved that the year is over and hopeful that a new year is coming. People are a bit excited too because they know they’ll spend an amazing time with their families and friends.
My husband has a car and motorbike, so transportation is always easy. And I know the shops will close for a few days, but actually I like it – it creates a special festive mood (other countries do it too, in Europe and UK for example on Christmas Day everything is closed, and in Russia on New Year’s Day). And also it’s time for people who work in supermarkets to relax and for all people to just spend a good time at home, go to the park, take photos, sing karaoke, play board and card games, etc.
And we get many traditional Vietnamese food gifts from my husband’s mother, so I’m very excited to spend time at home, watching movies and eating those yummy snacks (mứt [jams], spicy green beans, nuts.
Ashley Nel, South African, Academic Coordinator
My first experience of Tết was pretty daunting. I arrived in Hà Nội in late September 2018, and I heard about a thing called ‘The Tết Holiday’.
It was also very far in the future, so I didn’t think too much of it until it got closer to the holiday – my biggest concern was what I would do for food!
I decided to travel to Ninh Bình with a group of friends.
We felt so welcome in the community; we were invited to share some beers with people in the streets and got to see the fireworks from our accommodation.
That first Tết is still my most memorable.
The homestay I stayed at said they would lock the gates at midnight because they wanted to go out and celebrate. When the fireworks started I was sad that I couldn’t go closer, as the gates were locked. I decided to try to jump the wall but as I approached the gate, I realised that the gates were wide open, and the manager was out in the street celebrating. They ended up not locking the gates at all. Instead, we watched the fireworks together.
I’ll be turning 30 just before this Tết holiday starts. I plan on going to Sóc Sơn for the weekend to sit by a campfire and welcome in the New Year, and my 30s, with my friends.
After that, I’ll be flying to Phú Quốc and sipping cocktails on the beach. It’ll be my sixth time to Phú Quốc, but it’ll be the first time I’ll celebrate Tết there.
In the upcoming Lunar New Year I plan on focusing on self-development and self-care. 2021 was a challenging year, and I want to focus on things that make me happy.
Alex Reeves, British, Global Perspectives Teacher
My first Tết back in 2018 was cold, lonely, and isolated. I was new to Việt Nam – jobless, broke and dismayed at the thought of two weeks with everything being closed.
However, the situation helped me engage more with my neighbours, learn more about my newfound home and appreciate virtues that have come to define my time in Việt Nam, things that I now love about Tết for me at least, through the eyes of a foreigner, a migrant, an expat, a Tây or whatever it is that I am in this society. Tết is a time of adventure.
Since that first dreary Tết where the highlight of my day was a warm bowl of cháo gà [chicken porridge], I’ve had the opportunity to see monkeys in Cát Tiên national park and swim downstream with buffalo further north.
New Year, be it here or at home, is a time of contrasts. Calm reflection of the old year, excitement for the new. Here, the unrelenting day-to-day madness of Hà Nội calms down to a slow rượu-laden lull.
Life lived on the street often to provide a service for others is exchanged for time within the home with family and self.
For me? Swapping the city for the countryside, and my neighbourhood routine for new surroundings.
While Vietnamese revel in the familiarity of family, the ‘expat’ community finds time to explore more of the country they’ve often fallen in love with. I can think of no better way to celebrate.
This year I’ll take my bike and head South and see where I end up. I would say that we should think about the sacrifices that everyone has made.
While this year was not the easiest, and this Tết maybe not be the most exciting, let’s remember that there will always, always, be next year. VNS