Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year (Tet holiday)
The first week of January, Tan, who was born and grew up in the same country with me, celebrated his six-month anniversary of studying abroad in the US. Like me and other international students, he comes here to seek opportunities to get better education for a brighter future. Although he said in a surprising voice, “Half a year passed by just in the blink of an eye”, it is also long enough for a young boy, who has just turned nineteen and spent the very first time of his life living without family to start to feel homesick. I knew it for sure from the moment he asked me whether we had the school break for the New Year or not.
“Uhhhh,” I stuttered. “But we’ve just returned back to school after the winter break and New Year.”
“Not that New Year,” he laughed. “I mean Lunar New Year.”
Lunar New Year, which we usually call it “Tet”, is considered one of the most important cultural festivals in Vietnam because it is a good occasion for family reunion and for paying respect to ancestors and the elders. Therefore, it is not too hard to understand why the Vietnamese community, no matter where they may be, are filled with nostalgia, wishing to come back to their homeland for a warm meaningful Tet holiday with family and friends.
Like hallucination, the memory of these days one year ago, when I first experienced Tet away from home, suddenly flashed back to me. In here, no one really knows what Tet is, or if they do, they just know it as “Chinese New Year”. But the worst thing is that Americans don’t celebrate Lunar New Year. This also means that I still had classes to attend and assignments to do on Tet last year. My first Tet in the land of freedom and opportunity passed very quickly and quietly with not only a coldness because of severe winter weather but also a sense of emptiness inside of my soul. It was the feeling of trying not to burst into tears when talking with my parents on video call, or the struggle not to say, “I miss Vietnam” when watching my friends from home getting excited to prepare for Tet.
Tet usually occurs between late January or early February, depending on the lunisolar calendar. Although this special holiday lasts in four days, the country is abuzz with preparations in a week leading up to Lunar New Year. This is the busiest time of the whole year. Everyone is in a rush to get a new haircut, buy new clothes, visit friends, settle outstanding debts, stock up on traditional Tet delicacies and spruce up their homes with poems and traditional idioms written on red papers in the hope of getting rid of the past year’ bad fortune and wishing health, wealth and happiness. Some families go so far as to coat their houses by a new look with many colorful paints. Businesses hang festive red banners that read, “Chuc mung nam moi” (Happy New Year), and every corner of the city is festooned with colorful lights. Stalls spring up all over town to sell traditional cakes, flowers, candied and fresh fruits. Certain markets sell nothing but cone-shaped kumquat bushes which represent good luck and prosperity. Others sell yellow apricot blossom bonsai trees, a symbol of the wealth. The image of vendors pouring into the city with apricot blossom bonsai trees strapped to their vehicles creates the city look like a moving yellow forest. The atmosphere on these days is very animated and joyful with the streets and markets full of people moving around. Then a few days before Tet, the pace begins to slow down as many thousands of city residents depart for their ancestral home towns in the provinces. Finally on the first day of the new year, an abrupt transformation occurs: the streets become quiet, almost deserted. Nearly all shops and restaurants close for three days.