Long gone were the sight of all your aunts, uncles, cousins and the rest of the extended families scurrying around in the same room. The arrangement of the green squares and cylindrical-shaped cakes on the table and in front of your ancestors’ pictures along with burning incense. The fireworks that were not displayed publicly to a mass audience like today but were eagerly expected by the little ones as their parents prepared the launch privately. The shiny and elegant ao dai not worn by adults to pose in front of cameras for social media but by young children running around and showing off their colorful costumes for the holiday. But was the charm, the “forever amour of Tet,” long gone?
The charm of Tet, at least one that for adults, nostalgic for the memories in the past, and young children, curious for those unlived memories, was traditional. It involved a joint effort from everyone in the family to wash and clean the home. Children, and even adults, adorned new clothes for the new year. Pots of chrysanthemums and sunflowers were hastily purchased and now exuded their bright colors and faint aroma in the corner of the house. Most noticeable was a giant pot of yellow apricot blossoms, or pink peach blossoms in the North, in the middle of the living room. Candies and fruits of all kinds were intricately arranged in giant plates which was the centerpiece of the young children’s attention. From the kitchen, the smell of thit kho and dua gia permeated through the house, but as equally promising to the appetite and the belly were the banh chung and banh tet already situated on the dinner table, waiting to be shared and enjoyed by all family members. As the few days of laughter, banter, good food, and family quickly passed by, eagerness was on everyone’s mind as each person awaits another Tet, hopefully coming around the corner.
But the old Tet doesn’t come back. The charm slowly fades from the conscious part of our minds as what have been used to come suddenly halted its coming. Suddenly, one finds herself on the other side of the globe, no longer with her parents as the special time on the lunar calendar strikes. Another one finds himself cleaning up the house with one of his parent, but without the other one. Grandma now only sits and observes everyone else set up the breakfast feast, unable to cook her favorite Tet dish that was once the buzz of her grandchildren. There are now more chairs than family members on the morning gathering of Tet. The plate of candy and sweets doesn’t attract the young ones anymore, as they are now grown men and women, and what once were children’s laughter and energetic noises turned into peaceful, but a bit unnerving, silence.
Changing times have opened changing ways for the Vietnamese people to celebrate Tet. An article from Viet Nam News showcases how Kim Ngan, a bank clerk and Vietnamese woman, celebrate Tet with her family: a vacation trip to Malaysia. Like many other families nowadays, Ngan’s prefers an expensive expedition to a foreign country over a simple family get together. The opinions of the people are also voiced in the article, expressing the lack of need to cook banh chung the traditional way and the convenience of buying them from the store due to the newly adopted busy and hectic lifestyle of modern Vietnam. The elaborate New Year meal, once a long and complicated process to cook and prepare weeks before, is now purchased from the supermarket instantly and without any hassle. Quality time spent with family is being replaced with convenience; traditional homemade dishes are now commercially produced instead. It seems the amour, nested within the effort to uphold long standing traditions, is disappearing.
Where have the charm of Tet gone?
Maybe the charm does not have to reside in the relics of the past. As the times changed, what is new accommodates for what was lost. Distant relatives, ones absent physically, are now able to be there in spirit and in tiny smartphone screens, sending their smiles and wishes from far away straight to the hearts of their loved ones. The newer generations take over the cooking, cleaning, and preparing of Tet from their parents who might not be able to step in. Traditional candies became Western snacks, and new elaborate dishes appeared on the table alongside the banh chung and thit kho. Instead of staying home, families spend quality time together on vacations, a trip to the park or to festively decorated streets and areas. Movies and comedy shows about Tet dominate the big and small screens, bringing the sense of family and cultural identity to those who could not be with their loved ones. If one is lucky, the old traditions could still able to be kept alive year after year, not holding ground against but naturally blending in with the new traditions. Tet is not lost in the absence of old traditions; rather, the magic transformed itself into new activities that still sustain the amour of Tet in each and every person.
As one thinks of and reminisces about Tet in the past, it is reasonably so to cling on to the old ways of celebrating the heartwarming holiday. However, one should start to realize the charm, the magic, the armour of Tet, can not be forever contained in the familiar things. After all, what makes Tet in the first place is not the food and the traditions but the loved ones who make it and practice it. As long as there is effort to treasure the importance of family, the armour of Tet will forever live on in each of our hearts.