Tết is so memorable: Russian scholar

January 21, 2023 - 12:11
Daria Mishukova keeps in her heart as a precious memory her very first Vietnamese Tết.

Daria Mishukova

I keep in my heart as a precious memory my very first Vietnamese Tết. It was in 1996 in Russia on my first year at the university. A teacher of Vietnamese language invited all the students to visit her house to share a taste of Vietnamese Tết with her family.

On that memorable day, our teacher and her husband let us listen and see, and touch and taste what is real Vietnamese Tết. As an excellent cook, the teacher gave many meaningful comments about traditional Tet dishes. I have never seen again so skillfully cooked boneless whole chicken stuffed with noodles and mushrooms. Later, I also learned from my Vietnamese language teacher that fried spring rolls (nem rán) would have a beautiful appetizing golden colour if soaked rice paper (bánh tráng) in beer instead of water before wrapping nem.

In Việt Nam, I celebrated Tết for the first time in Hà Nội in 1998. I came to Việt Nam with a group of Russian students to have language practice at Hà Nội National University for one academic year. The Faculty of Vietnamese Language for Foreigners organised a beautiful Tết party for international students.

Scholar Daria Mishukova with a wish in Vietnamese for Tết. Photo courtesy of the writer

Vietnamese friends invited us to visit their houses to experience the true spirit and joyful atmosphere of Tết with Vietnamese families. An old Vietnamese lady, a grandmother of a fellow student, explained that it is not customary to cut bánh chưng with a knife, instead, a bamboo string is used for the purpose, first cut into four square pieces, and finally into eight triangular wedges using the same string.

During the following years, I had the pleasure to celebrate Tết in Việt Nam 15 times more. I had many opportunities to observe similarities and differences of Tết festive activities in big cities and rural areas in Việt Nam: in Hà Nội, in HCM City, in Nha Trang, Mũi Né-Phan Thiết and Phú Quốc island. 

I collected many memories, wrote many notes about Tết that turned to be helpful materials for writing numerous essays and articles about Vietnamese culture for in-flight magazines, including online publications for Business & Leisure.

This collection of essays about Tết was featured by Vietnamese newspapers as "Nhà Việt Nam học người Nga và 22 câu chuyện về Tết Việt". Also I participated in many TV shows both in Việt Nam and in Russia, talking about the traditions and modernity of Vietnamese Tết.

Recently, in October 2022, I published my new book in the Russian language with a fascinating title "Vietnam. Encyclopedia of Tet festival", which is truly 120 text pages of a pure Tết atmosphere.

The book contains 10 chapters, starting from typical preparations and ceremonies before Tết, a farewell ceremony for Táo Quân or the “Kitchen Gods”, a fish release ritual and its impact on ecology, an annual shopping extravaganza before Tết, and some practical remarks on the influence of Tết on business routines in Việt Nam.

I shared the different ways of decorating houses with flowers, fruits, Đông Hồ traditional pictures, good wishes in a form of Vietnamese calligraphy or Chinese symbols on scrolls or in wooden frames, on silk fabric or red velvet paper. About the "must-do" list for the first day of the lunar new year. The first, second and third days of Tết are known as the days to pay respect to father, mother, teacher, and so on up to the 10th day of Tết, when many Vietnamese like to buy some gold for good luck and prosperity.

Other topics include the symbolic flowers of Tết (hoa đào, hoa mai, cây quýt, hoa cúc), the most popular Tet dishes of North, Central and South Việt Nam, sweets and candies (mứt Tết), and lucky money in red envelopes (lì xì). With personal experience of Tết in Việt Nam and overseas for almost three decades, I can say for sure that from year to year, Tết festive activities and decorations become brighter and richer.

Both in private houses and public places, in families and in wider society circles, Vietnamese Tết become more beautiful, more colorful, more sophisticated. It obviously shows the growing prosperity of Vietnamese society. People eagerly spend more money on gifts, ao dai dresses, decorations and the celebration of Tết. I like this trend.

The most impressive gift hamper I ever saw in Việt Nam was a basket with a tower of packs and boxes of sweets almost as high as my own height, as a top ribbon bow was almost level to my face.

I truly appreciate the tradition of giving lucky money, li xì, it is a nice practice of politeness, when all members of the family are wearing traditional costumes and giving li xì to children and elders. It is an impressive demonstration of the very essence of traditional family values.

Now is the time to welcome spring "Tết đến, xuân về" and wish for peace and prosperity "An Khang Thịnh Vượng - Vạn sự như ý". VNS