Overseas Vietnamese mixed about celebrating Tet far from home

By Duc Trung   January 21, 2023 | 06:00 pm PT
Overseas Vietnamese mixed about celebrating Tet far from home
Vietnamese in Berlin gather to wrap banh chung for Tet celebration, 2023. Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Agency
Fun, warm, ‘not different from home,’ and ‘homesick’ are just some of the mixed reactions overseas Vietnamese have expressed towards celebrating their traditional Tet holiday abroad, thousands of miles from their homeland.

"My family buys peach blossom branches and banh chung (square sticky rice cake) to make offerings to the Kitchen Gods. During Tet, the whole family plans to visit pagodas and watch lion dances", Quynh Anh, 23, who has been living in Paris for more than 6 years, told VnExpress.

This time, Tet lasts from January 20-26.

She said her extended family has 30 members all living in France, so the traditional Tet atmosphere ‘is not much different from Vietnam.’

"Every Tet holiday, my whole family reunites to go shopping and we feel very warm doing so," she said.

Nguyen Thanh Tong, former vice president of the Vietnamese Association in France, said the Tet atmosphere is often felt most clearly in Chinatown in Paris' 13th District, where people often set off firecrackers and wear traditional costumes for parades on the street.

In other European countries, many Vietnamese expatriates have begun preparing for the Lunar New Year holiday.

In Germany’s Berlin, Van Minh, 50, is helping his wife prepare a perfect Tet holiday away from home.

He said Vietnamese families here often shop at Asian supermarkets where banh chung and many traditional Tet dishes are sold.

He said that his family and their neighbors still buy large green leaves known as dong (phrynium placentarium), to wrap banh chung, an indispensable part of northern Vietnamese family celebrations during Tet.

"We hope our children can remember and preserve our traditions and national roots," said Mrs. Nga, Minh’s wife.

But for many young expatriates living far from home, Tet is an occasion for homesickness.

Hai Lam, 23, a student studying in South Korea for more than five years, said the Vietnamese community here is large and has almost everything for Tet – from home decorations to traditional dishes like banh chung – but the Tet atmosphere "is not the same as home."

"Last year, I and some Vietnamese friends in Seoul gathered to make fried spring rolls on the night of Lunar New Year’s Eve. The warm atmosphere made our homesickness somewhat ease," she said.

Due to the timezone difference, everyone stayed up until 2 a.m. to wait for the countdown moment in Vietnam. When the clock chimes midnight Vietnam time, everyone "goes to a corner and calls home to give new year wishes to family members.

Celebrating Tet away from home is not easy for Hoang Trang, 24, who has lived and studied in the U.K. for seven years.

She said that Tet celebrations in a foreign country always leaves her with "cold loneliness", especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"In the last two years, I stayed at home for almost a whole month during Tet because of Covid-19, only going out to take out the trash," Trang recalled. She said things have been particularly rough through the pandemic because she had struggled to find a job during the pandemic.

"I was full of horrible homesickness, just craving the fish noodle soup that my mother made when I was a child."

This year she returned home to celebrate Tet after four years of separation. When she went to a temple with her parents, she burst into tears when she smelled the scent of incense and felt the Tet spirit hardly found in foreign countries.

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