Vietnam Sets Sights on Tet Holiday 2016

In Vietnam, we love a good holiday, no matter the origins of the celebration. The Vietnamese didn’t invent Valentine’s Day, but we pay homage to Cupid with as much fervor as cultures that have been on to him for decades. Though but a small portion of our population is Christian, you wouldn’t suspect as much from the people streaming into churches around Christmas. Still, the holiday that matters more than all of the others combined, the one that goes right to the very soul of who we are as a people is Tet, the lunar new year.

Tet can be confusing, especially if you are American. Just last week, a guest from Arizona asked me why we celebrate Tet every year.

“It’s in our blood,” I told him.

“There was too much blood,” he said to me. He was in late middle-age, and he wore his hair long, as if to make up for what he’d lost up top.

“Don’t you just want to forget about it?” he asked me.

Foreigners in Vietnam -- expats, I mean -- often do leave Vietnam during Tet. The country tends to shut down as everyone streams home for the holiday. For three days, commerce goes into hibernation. Nothing gets done. If you’re not celebrating with family, it can be a bit burdensome. So, I thought I understood where he was coming from.

“Well, I’m Vietnamese,” I said. “I’ve been celebrating this since before I could remember.”

He looked at me strangely. “Little kids celebrate it? Boys? Girls, too?”

“Especially little kids. Everyone gives them money - lucky money, and there are dragon dances, and candy, and all kinds of sweet foods.”

His jaw dropped, and his face went blank. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. I think I’ve confused Tet with the lunar new year. I thought Tet was the name of the big battle in 1968 between my country and your country.”

Of course. The Tet Offensive. Foreigners with even a little bit of knowledge about the war know that the Tet Offensive in 1968 was a major turning point. But not everyone knows that Tet is far more the name of our ancient holiday than a battle.

Now, he was smiling, happy to be on the same page, and I suggested he stay in Vietnam for the Tet holiday. Every traveler should experience at least one Tet in Vietnam. In 2016, Feb. 8 is the first day of the new year. So, what to do in Hue for the Tet holiday 2016?

The experience can be incredibly sublime. We’re happy. Everyone comes home, both the living and the dead, lured back from the Permanent World by the sweet smell of jasmine incense and the offerings we put upon the family altar.

Cut stands of apricot and cherry flower in our homes. We gamble for fun. We tear crisp notes of currency off thick wads we carry in our pockets, thrilling little kids with gifts called li xi. We feast on holiday cakes of sticky rice and bean curd called banh chung. We visit family and friends. At the hotel, we anticipate the holiday with La Residence Tet Food Fest, starting 10 days before the holiday itself.

“You should come back,” I told my friend from Arizona, smiling, knowing it was unlikely he would return to Vietnam. “The festive music, food and the cheerful atmosphere at the hotel during the Tet Food Fest alone is worth the return trip!”

He looked at me as if there was a possibility, but I knew he was just being nice. “It sounds as exciting as Christmas.”

It is, I told him. As exciting as Christmas. As spectacular as the Fourth of July in America. As holy as Easter the world over. It’s also everyone’s birthday in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the day we were born isn’t the threshold that matters. The Tet holiday does. Not that most of us are not now celebrating our actual birthday these days, too. We do. We Vietnamese, we love a good holiday.

 

 

By Phan Trong Minh, General Manager La Residence Hotel & Spa