We should make Tet a global celebration of Vietnamese culture

January 31, 2022 | 04:00 pm PT
Phan Thuy Thanh Diplomat
Many Europeans refer to the Lunar New Year Festival as the "Chinese New Year". Not many know that Tet is uniquely Vietnamese. We should change this.

When I was the Head Ambassador of the Vietnamese Delegation in the EU from 2003 to 2007, I wondered why so many Europeans didn't know that Vietnam has its very own Lunar New Year Festival called Tet, with signature features and elements that sets it well apart from others.

I know promoting culture is not a competition, but I want more people to know about our country's Tet celebrations. It is such an integral part of Vietnamese culture and a great opportunity to highlight our country on the global stage. As such, every time our embassy organized Tet events overseas, instead of mere parties, we opted for something a bit more comprehensive.

About a month before Tet, we posted advertisements in the Vlaans, a hugely popular newspaper in Belgium that is usually handed out for free in supermarkets, subways, schools and other public locations. The advertisements simply said: "Get ready for Vietnam’s Tet, an event to be organized at the Saint Michael College in Brussels for the whole day."

We placed more emphasis on the word "Tet" as Vietnam’s unique variation of the Lunar New Year Festival, wanting readers to remember and recognize the name as a distinctly Vietnamese event.

The event was usually organized the week before the Lunar New Year, a time when both people from inside and outside the Vietnamese community could attend. The cold weather meant the event had to take place in an enclosed area capable of hosting thousands of guests.

In 2004, we focused on showcasing Vietnam’s culinary arts. Over 20 food stalls were manned by Vietnamese people. We had banh chung (sticky rice cakes), hanh muoi (pickled shallots), banh mi, stir-fried pho, banh cuon (steamed rice rolls) and a myriad of other delights. There were even Vietnamese who’d migrated from Laos to Belgium to cook dishes fusing Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian cuisines.

We also gave people the opportunity to enjoy Vietnamese films, handicrafts and even the works of Vietnamese artists participating in the event.

In the evening, we had a music show at the school’s auditorium hall. There were Nha nhac cung dinh Hue (Elegant music of the Hue royalty) and Cong chieng Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands Gong) concerts, and other traditional performing arts. The hall of 1,500 seats quickly filled up and remained full throughout the night.

It was an exhausting but exciting time for us organizers, following months of preparation for the first Tet event in Belgium that year. It was as though everyone turned up - Vietnamese families celebrating a significant event for them and many outsiders curious to see what was going on.

Brussels, as an international center in Europe, is famous for its festivals. While some people came to our Tet event to sate their curiosity at first, they soon became regulars. Soon, in the days leading to it, people began referring to "the Vietnamese Festival," and it attracted people from across Europe who came to enjoy Vietnamese food and cultural performances.

Gradually but certainly, Vietnamese Tet gained a footprint in Belgium. Every year our event was covered by the local news media, and a Belgian pageant even participated in the event in 2005. Tour agencies invited me to become their ambassador for highlighting Vietnamese history and culture to the European public. These things helped drive up the number of Belgian tourists visiting Vietnam.

This is just a small story for me to tell as a diplomat. Vietnam has many more stories to tell the world. Tet is a small but significant one.

So, this Tet, bring along a foreigner friend to your home for a celebration. We can all become ambassadors and diplomats of our country by treasuring and sharing our values with the world. Tet is great way to start heightening awareness and appreciation of Vietnamese culture.

*Phan Thuy Thanh is a Vietnamese diplomat and a former spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The opinions expressed are her own.

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