Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers for their favourite memories of Tet holidays and questioned what they think of the suggestion that the country should celebrate Tet under the solar calendar instead of the lunar one. Here are some responses:
In an attempt to intervene in the gender ratio disparity at birth in Viet Nam in the period 2013-15, the General Office for Population and Family Planning has proposed to offer subsidies for families who only have daughters. Accordingly, couples who have one or two children who are girls will receive financial support from the Government. The girls will be given preferential policies in terms of healthcare, educational tuition fees and vocational training. In addition, the parents will enjoy special security benefits in their retirement.
What do you think about the proposal? Will it really work as a measure to change Vietnamese people's psychological preference for boys? Can you think of a more effective and persuasive proposal? Are there any experiences from your country you can share?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning on February 7, 2013.
Choi Yi Seob, Korean, Ha Noi
I have been in Ha Noi for nearly five years. My wife and I enjoyed two Tets in Ha Noi and two others in South Korea. This year, we will stay here. My wife – a traditional Vietnamese woman and myself often go together every year to the flower market to buy peach blossom, a kumquat tree and many flowers to decorate our house.
I have learned how to cook Vietnamese traditional dishes; however, I have to admit that this is difficult and takes time to do well. Nem (spring rolls) is my favourite dish. I think Tet is really a traditional custom and Viet Nam should keep it. It is better to celebrate it according to the lunar calendar rather than solar because every country has its own traditional customs. Tradition has to be the pride of the nation.
In our country, Lunar New Year, known as Seollal (also spelled Seolnal) is one of South Korea's major holidays.
Preparation for Seollal has similarities to the Tet of Viet Nam. The day before Seollal, family members gather to prepare the dishes required for the ancestral rites offerings. These must not only taste good but also look perfect.
While Viet Nam has banh chung (rice square cake), nem (spring rolls), xoi (sticky rice), gio lua (pork-pie), South Korean has tteokguk (rice cake soup) and 20 other dishes such as wild vegetables, Korean style pancakes, various types of fish, galbijjim (rib stew), japchae (noodles with meat and vegetables) and many more.
Vu Minh Duy, Vietnamese, Japan
It is time to change, I think. As far as I know, only Viet Nam, South Korea and China still celebrate New Year under the lunar calendar and consider this time as a time for holidays.
I have lived in Japan for a couple of years. Japan has celebrated New Year based on the solar calendar since 1873. The Japanese New Year celebration is called shogatsu. New Year's Day is on January 1 and is called gantan, it is a Japanese national holiday.
Although celebrating New Year using the solar system, Japanese people still maintain their traditional customs. I found many similarities in New Year celebrations between Japan and Viet Nam. Homes and entrance gates are decorated with ornaments made of pine, bamboo and plum tree, while clothes and houses are cleaned.
On New Year's Eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolising longevity, are served. It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu. Most impressive are visits at the actual turn of the year, when large temple bells ring out at midnight. Various kinds of special dishes are served during shogatsu. They include osechi ryori, otoso (sweetened rice wine) and ozoni (a soup with glutinous rice).
Claire Huppert, French, HCM City
I have been living in Viet Nam for 10 years and what impresses me most about the traditional Vietnamese New Year celebrations is the family union, the traditional food and the customs.
Like all Vietnamese people, during Tet holiday, I, together with my Vietnamese husband and children, usually visit my friends and family. I also buy Viet Nam's speciality, fruit jam and ginger jam, to send to my relatives back in France because the winter there is very cold so the people enjoy ginger jam and hot tea.
Since getting married to a Vietnamese husband, I enjoy cooking traditional food myself on the first days of lunar year, worshipping the ancestors in accordance with Vietnamese customs and especially watching the Kitchen Gods show on the night before with my family.
In my opinion, Tet helps to improve Viet Nam's social relationships, make people become more friendly and brings them closer to each other; therefore, the society becomes more and more stable.
The Tet holiday shows the noble national character of Viet Nam, so I think it should be preserved, allowing foreigners like me to enjoy the best of the unique Vietnamese customs.
Vuong Dieu Linh, Vietnamese, the Netherlands
I went to the Netherlands for study seven years ago. However, I always try to find time to return home to celebrate Tet with my family. I never forget the first time I was far away from home during Tet – it was 2005. I missed my family, friends, and everything relating to Tet so much. I even cried when my mother phoned me on that New Year's Eve. Tet, for me, is actually a time for reunion and relaxation.
One expert suggested that Viet Nam should celebrate Tet under the solar calendar instead of the lunar calendar. He reasoned that having a long Tet holiday under the lunar calendar hampered business transactions, especially with counterparts in countries that normally work during this time. I think there are not many people whose business transactions may be hampered due to long Tet holidays. It may account for a small part of the national population. So, it is not a reason to change a long-standing traditional custom.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Viet Nam should be ‘loud and proud' about all things Vietnamese and show off to the world its traditions. You are a tough, hardy people who have withstood pressures from the north as well as foreign colonial and imperialistic forces. Anyone who knows their history knows which countries I allude to.
I look forward to staying in Ha Noi this Tet as I will buy a new bicycle and camera. Deserted streets and closed shops will make for good, rare photo opportunities. I will stock up on a few loaves of bread and will finally act like a tourist buying postcards and t-shirts.
As for changing the lunar calendar and succumbing to globalisation's 24/7 supply chain management system: be wary, be careful. Certainly, you need to remain competitive and appease your international customers and clients. At the same time, it is essential to have an annual vacation where family, tradition and history maintains its rightful place.
Do not get caught up in the ‘rat race' trying to ‘keep up with the Jones'' buying the latest gadget, blindly following the latest fashion. Celebrate the ao dai, non la, pho and nem. You do not want to fade into history where only a few tourists know why you do this and that on April 30 or September 2 or at Tet.
I did not visit (and stay) in Viet Nam for another cafe latte and pizza. I crave authenticity. I want Vietnamese coffee. I want Vietnamese nem. I want pho.
Do not disappoint me - you will lose your identity and I will lose my reason to stay. — VNS