In the new normal, is Tet losing its uniqueness?

By Nguyen Hai Binh   January 20, 2022 | 05:09 pm PT
In the new normal, is Tet losing its uniqueness?
A man on an empty street in Hanoi on the first day of the Lunar New Year, February 12, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
For many people, this year's Tet is no longer that grand traditional, most important Vietnamese festival that everyone waits with bated breath. The pandemic has robbed it of its sheen.

Since Covid-19 appeared and turned the world upside down two years ago, much has changed for humanity. Life's usual travails paled into insignificance or compounded it as the novel coronavirus claimed millions of lives and crippled whole nations.

Today, in Vietnam, there does not seem to be much room left to think about and prepare for Tet, the Lunar New Year festival that usually sees millions upon millions return to their homes for eagerly awaited family reunions, traditional feasts and other celebrations.

This year, many have decided to stay back in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and other big cities instead of returning to their hometowns, because one's own health and that of the family has become a dominant concern.

Even more importantly, Tet has lost some of its unique luster and become not very distinguishable from other holidays. It is no longer that grand festival with full wardrobe changes and scrumptious feasts and endless trips to pagodas and relatives' homes. Covid-19 has only served as a catalyst to speed up this value shift it has already been years in the making.

People are no longer going home in droves. There is no sight of buses on the road, close to overflowing with passengers. The usual hustle and bustle of streets before Vietnam's most important festival is missing.

All this makes sense, though. Everything that people often attribute a uniquely Tet quality to – do they carry that belief anymore? For instance, foods traditionally associated with the festival are now available all year round.

People say Tet is a chance for reunions. But any other holiday is also a chance for reunions. Most national holidays allow people to take at least two consecutive days off, and if they fall onto the weekends, they extend to three or four days. It’s the perfect duration for people to wind down, travel around and meet others while not being driven to boredom as the process goes on and on.

A Tet holiday season that builds up with many activities and culminates in a six-seven days break can also make people lethargic. Many require time to catch up with their usual performance levels after the holiday ends.

While Tet is surely a chance to have fun and a good time, for so many, if not most of us, it also means a lot of pressure, especially for those holding down jobs and keeping families afloat.

And for the young that are not getting younger, we are all too familiar with sustained interrogation from relatives we haven't seen in years: When are you getting married? When's the baby coming? Have you bought a house or a car yet?

Such questions have come to symbolize a generational divide that alienate young people at family gatherings.

Not everyone wants marriage. Not everyone wants kids. To them, such questions are out of place, insensitive and even rude. They are no fun.

And above everything else, Tet has become a costlier affair than ever, not just financially. Returning home now may mean being quarantined for a week, which is just about as long as the holiday lasts. Many people have now made peace with the fact that they will stay back in the city at least for this year.

Tet is still on the mind for many of my friends, but not the kind of Tet they used to have. Tet of the Covid era has lost a lot of its dynamism - people simply stay home and away from crowds, and only the closest people in our lives visit. It also means fewer decorations, fewer meals and fewer headaches.

Are things better this way? I don't know.

But one thing is certain in my mind: the longer the pandemic lasts, the faster Tet will lose its traditional splendor and uniqueness - and become just another normal holiday.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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