One of the first things most newcomers to this country learn about as they adjust to Vietnamese culture is the importance of Tet, or the Lunar New Year. When I moved here in September of 2010 I was quickly filled in on the holiday, even though it was still five months away. While the U.S., where I’m from, has its fair share of holidays, there is no equivalent to Tet.
Expats in Saigon are warned that the city will empty out a few days before the day of Tet itself; businesses will close; and there will basically be no one here. Travel within Vietnam itself is advised against, since all of the locals are traveling to their hometowns, meaning every train, plane, bus, and boat is packed to the brim. As a result, most foreigners head to other countries. The school I work at gives us 10 days off, and last year I escaped to Thailand with my two roommates. Almost everyone I knew was traveling somewhere, so I thought it would have been boring and lonely to stay here.
In America, on the other hand, most businesses close for a day or two around Christmas and Thanksgiving; and there are a few federal holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when schools and government-run offices are shuttered, but at no point does practically the entire country shut down for an extended period of time. As the latest AsiaLIFE cover story noted, Tet is like Christmas, New Year’s, and your birthday combined.
This holiday can be somewhat difficult to describe to my friends and family back in America, since it is so vastly different from our traditions, but the phrase “Tet” is actually well known in the U.S., because one of the most decisive events of the Vietnam War occurred during Tet in 1968. People are certainly interested in how the holiday is celebrated here, and everyone is jealous of how much time we get off of work. They also find it odd that we celebrate two New Year’s – the January 1 one, and the Lunar one.
Therefore, Tet is very interesting to... [continues]
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