Once a cause for celebration, Tet is now expected with dread

Thursday, 2019-01-17 12:38:45
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Society has changed and celebrating Tet also needs to change. (Photo: The thao - Van hoa)
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NDO - It is less than three weeks before the Lunar New Year, or Tet, formally arrives and as usual a repeated call for combining Tet with the Western New Year has re-emerged, with some even moaning “Everything is perfectly OK, why does Tet come about?” For a growing number of Vietnamese people, Tet is becoming somewhat of a reluctant occasion.

Tet used to be an eagerly anticipated event when people sat beside the banh chung pot and enjoy the sacred atmosphere at the turn of a new year. But now the fear for Tet is becoming prevalent among quite a lot of people. In the lead-up to the Lunar New Year, the streets in big cities are always teeming with people driven into a shopping frenzy for Tet goods.

Tightness could be seen on the faces of almost everyone jostling to get out of the crowd stuck in a traffic jam, which is all too common these days. Tet is going to dump piles of other jobs on the shoulders of the people who are already too busy on a normal day.

Buying gifts for the paternal family, the maternal family, the teachers, the boss, those we need to thank and those we haven’t met for a long time; everyone is worried that they might accidentally miss something. Tet is only once in a year and a little slip could easily invite criticism.

When all the gifts are in place, then comes the headache of what to eat and what to decorate. In the past, eating was the main thing, hence why celebrating Tet is called “ăn Tết” (eating Tet) in Vietnamese. Today when food is abundant all year round, traditional foods such as gio lua, gio xao, banh chung and chicken have fallen out of favour since they are too energy-rich and take a great deal of time to prepare.

That is why time is now spent on scouring the web in the search for new specialties which do not make people feel sick and gain weight. What’s next? The difficult choice of which clothes to put on and how to decorate the house. Such headaches are not exclusive to not-so-rich people, better-off ones are also tired of weighing up one option against another.

In the run-up to Tet, people have to work harder than usual so as to ensure the daily work runs smoothly and Tet preparations are made adequately. The Tet holiday is a time when people are off from their paid jobs, but they must still take on other jobs: eating, drinking, wishing and socialising.
Alcoholic drinks are part of Tet get-togethers and hard to turn down when being plied with. It is why road accidents usually shoot up during the Tet holiday.

For those whose homes are in the countryside but work in town, another of their questions is using which vehicle to go home. And then comes lucky money which is now an obligation.

Those who dread Tet the most are perhaps managers. Tet is still a long way to go but the ambience of Tet is already in the air. The Tet holiday is officially 9 days, but the festive atmosphere could be sensed from the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month when the Kitchen Gods will travel to the Heaven to report to the Jade Emperor what has happened in the past year.

And Tet is not yet over after the final day of the 9-day holiday, it lasts well into several days after people get back to their normal work. The days after Tet are all wishes again and then temple visits. Who dares to say their work is not affected by Tet.

Many choose to get away from Tet by travelling. The first time when leaving Tet behind at home to go somewhere else they could get lectured. But everyone is eventually getting used to it, especially when more and more people are calling upon one another to escape together.

Tet was born in an agricultural society when life was not easy all year round. People used to look forwards to Tet because they would be able to eat good food and wear nice clothes. Tet also coincided with the time of the year when there was little or no farming activity, so people had plenty of time to visit one another.

But Vietnamese society today has changed fundamentally. Life is now faster and busier. In the past, family, clan and village relationships were of great importance and one would be chided if they failed to visit their relatives during Tet. With this custom, the scene of a procession of people in a family going from one house to another to offer their greetings was considered a symbol of a warm Tet.

In today’s society, the self is given more emphasis. People pay more attention to the small family than the large clan. After a year of hardship, many want to spend the Tet holiday for themselves. Nevertheless, the old mentality of Tet is still retained by many people. They still try to carry out all the duties of Tet towards others for fear of getting a bad name.

Certain customs are good, but some have become a burden when society has already changed. Tet in a new age also calls for a new spirit. It is still when people look back to their origins and send wishes to one another, but with a more open and sympathetic mind.

The identity does not necessarily have to be manifested in the form of customs, but of the spirit, especially when such customs have mutated into obligations to fulfil.