VietNamNet Bridge – One week after Tet, the party spirit is still very much present in the streets and in the houses of Vietnamese families. While it has long been a sacred festival for Vietnamese people, it has deeply impressed the increasing number of foreigners living in the country who are able to experience its rich traditional and cultural heritage.
Festive spirit: Foreigners visit the flower market in Hang Luoc Street in the Old Quarter a week before Tet. For many expats in Viet Nam, the festival offers them an opportunity to experience the country’s traditional cultural heritage.
This year was the fourth Tet holiday spent in Viet Nam for Matt Dworzanczyk, a Polish-American man who works in film and television production.
During this year’s holiday, he visited a friend and his family in Yen Bai Province.
Unlike many expats who chose to go overseas to escape the cold Ha Noi weather and empty streets as shops and restaurants close for Tet, Dworzanczyk has chosen to stay in Viet Nam every year to celebrate the holiday since he arrived. He always spends time with his Vietnamese friends and their families who invite him to parties at their homes.
“I always love eating fried banh chung (sticky rice cake) and other good stuff. On my way back from Yen Bai, my friend’s family gave me a whole bag of banh chung, so I’ve been eating them for every meal this week.”
He cherishes souvenirs of Tet and the warm sentiments of Vietnamese people have deeply touched him.
“I always appreciate how friendly and welcoming all Vietnamese people are. This year, even on the way back to Ha Noi, when I stopped for a short break from driving, people nearby still invited me to eat and drink with them,” he recalls.
He’s always kept with him some Vietnamese banknotes he received as “lucky money” from a friend, as well as an ethnic minority scarf a friend’s mother once gave him in the northern mountains.
For Dworzanczyk, Tet in Viet Nam is like a western Christmas, New Year’s and birthday combined into one holiday.
However, he was surprised to realise the importance of the altar in Vietnamese houses, which is different from the west.
“My first Tet, the family asked me to take a picture for them and I did, but then they were confused why I didn’t get their altar in their picture with them – I didn’t know before, but they said that I need to take a picture of the altar together with their family, so that their family members who died would also be in the picture – that’s a really nice custom. I appreciated it a lot,” he said.
Like Dworzanczyk, Philippa Wood from Australia, an events manager, producer and writer, has also celebrated Tet every year since she first came to Ha Noi six years ago.
Thisy year, her family spent a lot of time preparing for Tet and decorating the house.
“We bought a very large pink peach blossom branch – I am sure it was the most beautiful one ever to be found in Ha Noi,” she says.
“I purchased some decorations from Hang Ma Street specially to tie to the branches and also some large pieces to decorate the inside and outside of our house.”
“We have a big red and gold sign to hang on our gate to wish luck and happiness during the year, and one for our front door.”
During the celebrations, Wood and her sons enjoy watching the lion dancers and drummers, finding their colourful costumes and rhythmic movements “spectacular”.
She also loves seeing Vietnamese families dressed up to visit their relatives and friends, looking happy and enjoying their holiday.
But what amazed her the most, however, is the work of Vietnamese women.
“I cannot believe how much extra work the women manage to do in preparation for the celebrations and also during the festival – so much shopping, cooking and cleaning on top of their regular jobs,” she says.
The Tet holiday not only attracts those who have lived for a long time in Viet Nam but also newcomers.
“Even though it was my first Tet, I understand how important this traditional festival can be for Vietnamese families,” says Pierre Aguado, a French volunteer who works as the Communication Advisor of the Central Committee of Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union and has lived in Ha Noi for eight months.
Meanwhile, for James Fox, Senior Regional Programs manager in Asia for Operation Smile Incorporated, who has lived in Ha Noi for a year and a half, Tet is a special festival where he can receive lucky money as well as the traditional cake.
“I like Tet because I love how people spend time with their families and get together to celebrate the new year,” he confides.