Traditional Tet holiday, from tradition to modernity

I first enjoyed Vietnamese traditional Tet holiday in 1996 in my hometown of Vladivostok. This is a beautiful beach city, the eastern gate of Russia. At that time, I was a first year student of the Institute of the Orient, Far East National General University, one of the departments of Vietnamese studies in Russia.

I was very excited when being invited to enjoy the traditional Tet holiday with my teacher, Doan Thi Tuyet Mai, who taught Vietnamese at the university. This was the first time I had seen Chung cake and had a chance to discover Vietnamese cuisine. Chung cake tasted different to other kinds of Russian cake. It was also the first time I received lucky money and learned about this meaningful custom. I learned that both the young and the old felt happy when receiving lucky money on Tet.

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Two years later, I had the opportunity to enjoy Tet and experience the atmosphere of this special occasion as well as Vietnamese traditions in Vietnam.

Tet arrives, spring comes

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Vietnamese people often say: “happy new year and a happy spring”. Tet is a special holiday holding much traditional culture of Vietnamese people. On this occasion, anyone who is working far away will long to come back home to gather with their families. Tet holds many characteristics of the Vietnamese people and their spiritual values.

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I love the festive ambiance of Vietnam, including Tet holiday. On this occasion, people dress beautifully to visit their relatives, friends and colleagues. I was impressed by the many Vietnamese customs, particularly the custom of celebrating longevity in the early days of the new year. It’s a perfect occasion for descendants to express their respect to their parents, grandparents or the elders of the family.

“I was impressed by the many Vietnamese customs, particularly the custom of celebrating longevity in the early days of the new year. It’s a perfect occasion for descendants to express their respect to their parents, grandparents or the elders of the family.” (Daria Mishukova, Russian expert of Vietnamese studies)

Peach, apricot and kumquat blossoms

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Many beautiful icons are associated with Tet in Vietnam. The North boasts romantic, yellow peach blossoms while the South is represented by the apricot flowers. In addition, the kumquat tree with its orange fruit is displayed during Tet. Vietnamese people see special values in peach and apricot blossoms. The more bent, old and gnarled the peach tree is, the more valuable it is. However, foreigners in Vietnam see the kumquat as the most beautiful and impressive.

Evolution of the red envelope

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For me, the custom of giving lucky money in red envelopes on Tet holiday is very interesting. Over the last few years, I have collected different kinds of red envelopes. My first red envelop was given to me in 1998. I have been adding to my collection every year. With my modest collection, I can see changes of this custom over a decade. Firstly, it is the diversity of red envelopes, from the simple model of thin paper in the 1990s to various kinds of red envelopes printed on high-quality paper.

In recent years, red envelopes have begun to hold a new and modern purpose. They are to promote the brand name and style of companies to their customers and consumers. Currently, many banks, corporations, restaurants, spas, trade centers and tourist operators design their own red envelopes.

The trends in the design of red envelopes by corporations have held important changes. The envelopes have been made more Vietnamese. Traditionally, red envelopes sold in the markets have been decorated with gilded Chinese words that make foreigners think they originate from China. Meanwhile, envelopes made by corporations are written with Vietnamese wishes for the new year. Therefore, I can say that corporations have changed red envelopes to be more Vietnamese in the 21st century! And this trend is more and more varied. Perhaps, I should organize an exhibition about red envelopes used during the traditional Tet holiday of Vietnamese people.

For me, the custom of giving lucky money in red envelopes on Tet holiday is interesting. The trends in the design of red envelopes by corporations have held important changes. The envelopes have been made more Vietnamese.

How many Vietnamese people can cook Chung cake?

Chung cake is one of the most special symbols of Tet holiday. Among the dishes on Tet holiday, I like tasting Chung cake the most. I like the way the cake is explained in the legend of Chung cake and Day cake. Square Chung cake symbolizes the earth while round Day cake is a manifestation of the sky. In the past, Vietnamese only made Chung cake on Tet holiday. Now, you can buy the cake in supermarkets, but the cake is best enjoyed on Tet holiday.

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In the modern world, few people can make Chung cake at home. For me, cooking Chung cake at home is a wonderful experience. Foremost, it is the exchange among women of the family to remain traditional values of the nation. At present, many Vietnamese people buy Chung cake at the market. Parents still know how to make Chung cake, but they neither cook at home nor teach their descendants how to make. How many Vietnamese people under 30 used to make Chung cake?

“In the modern world, few people can make Chung cake at home. For me, cooking Chung cake at home is a wonderful experience.

The culinary culture is very important in the national culture. I wonder whether later Vietnamese generations can make Chung cake? Meanwhile, they know how to make sandwich.

New trends in enjoying Tet

After researching Vietnamese culture and celebrating many Tet occasions in Vietnam, I feel that the way of enjoying Tet holiday has been changing in recent years. In the past, Vietnamese people often gathered with their families or came back to their hometown. At present, many Vietnamese families, especially those with higher incomes, often travel through the country or abroad during Tet holiday. We can see there are more and more hot sales for flight tickets or tours during Tet holiday.

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A Traditional Tet holiday includes many beautiful characteristics and modern Tet does too. However, the common wish for a new year remains as: “Wishing you security, good health and prosperity, and may all your wishes come true!”.

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Further information:

(*) A Russian expert of Vietnamese studies, Daria Mishukova first published  “Vietnam – The Country of  the Fairy and the Dragon’s Children” in Russian in 2007. The book was last reprinted in 2013 by the National Political Publishing House. The book is the result of research into Vietnamese culture and tourism. It has been highly praised by domestic critics

Text: Daria Mishukova  Photos: Daria and other photographers – Vntravellive