Int'l diplomats gearing up for Tet traditions

Update: February, 07/2016 - 07:24

As the Lunar New Year (Tet) is coming, some female ambassadors to Viet Nam share their impressions of the Tet with Vuong Bach Lien.

Madame Camilla Mellander, ambassador of Sweden to Viet Nam

Inner Sanctum: How will you celebrate Tet this year?

Much like in Sweden where my family would often buy a Christmas tree for Christmas in December, I plan to get some new plants for Tet for my residence here.

Despite the cold weather, I intend to visit the flower gardens in Ha Noi to buy peach blossoms and kumquat trees. I would want to decorate my home with flowers and the colours of Tet.

We will certainly get some green banh chung as well. And finally, as a way of sharing the happiness and wishing each other Happy New Year, I will prepare some small li-xi as lucky money to give to children of Vietnamese friends.

Inner Sanctum: What Tet traditions do you like and dislike ?

Although officially a three-day celebration, I think Tet festivities may continue for a week or more with every effort made to indulge in eating, drinking, festivals and enjoyable social activities.

What I like most about Tet is that it is also a time for family reunions, and for paying respect to ancestors and elders. Gifts of food are given to good friends, neighbours and relatives in the days before Tet.

Interestingly, everyone is in a hurry to be in her or his best shape, getting a haircut, buying new clothes, repainting homes, settle outstanding debts and stocking up on traditional Tet delicacies. Everything should happen before the end of the old year as a sign for a good or better year ahead.

What I have also observed is that many of the household responsibilities such as preparation, purchasing, cooking and praying prior and during Tet fall onto shoulders of the Vietnamese women. I wish that the Vietnamese men would share a bit more of those traditional tasks and find a way to support their spouses, so nobody will get too exhausted from having to work too much during Tet.

Inner Sanctum: What amazes you the most among these traditions ?

Being in Viet Nam during Tet made my time in the country more fascinating, especially from a cultural standpoint. I've got to see how the Vietnamese prepare for Tet, learn exciting things about Vietnamese culture and then got to celebrate alongside them.

What has amazed me the most is that the city becomes comparatively "quiet" during this time of year. Ha Noi becomes a completely different city with less people, less traffic and most of the shops are closed for a few days at the beginning of the Lunar New Year. It is fantastic to go for a walk during those days where you are not disturbed by much traffic and noise.

Inner Sanctum: How many Tet celebrations have you experienced? Could you share with us some of your favourite memories of previous Tet holidays you've spent in Viet Nam?

This is actually my fourth Tet. Last year, we had a very fun preparation for Tet where all our staff members prepared mam ngu qua (five different types of local fruits), decorated our Embassy compound and performed the song Tet Tet Tet Tet Den roi as a singing card for the Vietnamese audience. Now, as I'm recalling, these were delightful and memorable moments we had together.

This year, together with the EU ambassadors, I will make a video greeting on the stairs of the beautiful Hanoi Opera House.

On the occasion of Tet, I would like to wish all of you peace, good health, happiness and success throughout the Year of the Monkey.

Madame Barbara Szymanowska, ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Viet Nam

Inner Sanctum: How will you celebrate Tet this year ?

I will be celebrating Tet in Viet Nam. My friends from Poland are visiting Viet Nam at that time, and we will be spending time together in Ha Noi and nearby. Thanks to Vietnamese friends, we will taste traditional Vietnamese cuisine - especially the famous square cakes. I also want to show them the old quarter and the most renowned historical sites in Ha Noi. I hope also to feel and share with my friends the one-and-only special atmosphere of Tet in Ha Noi.

Inner Sanctum: What Tet traditions do you like and dislike ?

I love traditional Tet celebrations because they reminds me of Polish Christmas. Although our cultures have many differences, we can find a lot in common. During Christmas Eve in Poland we celebrate with the family with a special dinner. Some dishes are only served at that time. For instance, in Poland we eat borsch - traditional beetroot soup. In Viet Nam during Tet you serve dried young bamboo soup (canh mang). We prepare cabbage with mushrooms, Vietnamese cook square cake (baùùnh chung). Poles serve kutia (rice with poppy seeds and honey) and in Viet Nam you get sticky rice.

Furthermore, remembering ancestors is also important to us. Unlike in Viet Nam, we do not have altars at home, but during Christmas we go to church and pray for our relatives, good health and good luck. Some Vietnamese visit pagodas to pray for a good start in the New Year.

In Poland we give nicely wrapped presents for children. Here children get "lucky money" in small red envelopes. We have Christmas trees and we decorate our houses with twigs of conifers - here there is a tradition to put up mandarin trees and decorate houses with the twigs of peach blossom trees. Before Christmas we also clean our houses thoroughly.

In the Polish Embassy in Ha Noi in December we put up a Christmas tree, and after that, in February a mandarin tree.

Many Vietnamese travels to their family houses. During Christmas in Poland we do the same.

Inner Sanctum: What amazes you the most among these traditions ?

As I already mentioned I have found many similarities between Vietnamese Tet and Polish Christmas. Compared to Christmas Tet is celebrated for a longer time, but thanks to that there is more time to spend with the family.

For Vietnamese, Tet is an opportunity to start all over again and forget about past problems. For us the time is the first of January.

Inner Sanctum: How many Tet celebrations have you experienced? Could you share with us some of your favourite memories of previous Tet holidays you've spent in Viet Nam?

This will be my second Tet in Viet Nam. Last time the weather was wonderful and the city was wonderful at that time. I liked the atmosphere and Ha Noi's street decorations - lamps, neon lights. Everywhere you could see beautiful flowers and blossoming trees. I also saw a firework show. I hope this year the atmosphere is the same.

I wish health, success and a happy New Year to all Viet Nam News readers!

Madame Cecilia Piccioni, ambassador of Italy to Viet Nam

Inner Sanctum: How will you celebrate Tet this year ?

The upcoming Tet will actually be my first in Viet Nam. I am extremely excited about the experience and have therefore decided to stay in Ha Noi to try and appreciate the festive atmosphere as much as possible.

Knowing what a big deal Tet is to the Vietnamese people, I do want to grasp more of its traditions. And I am also making ambitious and adventurous plans!

Indeed, I am very much looking forward to experiencing the city during a time when I hear it is almost deserted and takes on a hauntingly beautiful appearance. While Hanoians will be busy house-hopping to pay visits to parents and relatives and to enjoy great food and good wine, I plan on not only riding my bicycle around West Lake like I do every morning, but also venturing toward the city centre where the traffic usually makes a bike ride impossible for a foreigner.

I am excited to enjoy in silence and solitude the beauty of this city that took me in less than 10 months ago, making me falling in love with it. Meanwhile, on the second day of the year I hope to travel to Cu Da, the ancient settlement a few kilometres from Ha Noi, where I want to discover the beauty of these amazing examples of Northern Vietnamese architecture.

While there, I hope to indulge in and find out the secrets behind the mien dong (glass noodle) and the home-made soy sauce, both of which are still made following the ancient tradition and renown across all of Southeast Asia. Honestly, I can't think of a better way to kick off the New Year of the Monkey than with such a remarkable cultural and gastronomic adventure.

Inner Sanctum: What Tet traditions do you like? What amazes you the most among these traditions ?

Every moment from the preparation to the festivities of Tet is incredibly symbolic and fascinating for someone like me who is experiencing it all for the first time. What struck me the most, however, are some similarities I have noticed between the rituals preceding Tet and the traditions we have in Italy to celebrate "Capodanno".

For example, the preparation of the banh chung, which often draws the entire family together, is remarkably similar to the Italian tradition of preparing special festive delicacies such as "tortellini in brodo", a true "liturgy" celebrated in many households in my country. Both traditions offer an occasion for the entire family to gather, from elders to children, in a moment of tranquility in the larger picture of an otherwise frenetic and rushed life.

Unfortunately, in Italy it is becoming more and more common to purchase pre-made tortellini, as it happens in Viet Nam for the banh chung. I fear that both traditions are at risk of disappearing and it saddens me, the idea of losing the memory of the fascinating myth behind the creation of the square and round banh chung.

Another intriguing tradition that makes me think of our ancient costumes is the release of a little carp so that each family's Tao Quan [Kitchen Gods] may reach the jade emperor and recount to him the family's everyday life. The ancient Romans also venerated their ancestors with an altar, the most sacred place in their houses, and they too had their own Tao Quans, the "lari".

It is these similarities between our cultures and traditions that fascinate me the most and draw me so strongly to Viet Nam. I hope I can discover even more during my first Tet!

Madame Meirav Eilon Shahar, ambassador of Israel to Viet Nam

Inner Sanctum: How will you celebrate Tet this year?

Actually I'm going on a trip back to Israel and coming back on the first day of Tet. Right after arriving, my family and I will go to Phu Tay Ho (Tay Ho temple), the place we visit every Tet. The temple is not very far from my house and I enjoying seeing people coming here, praying for a happy New Year. Then, I just spend time with my family as much as possible.

Inner Sanctum: What Tet traditions do you like ?

I find it very interesting to experience traditions that are similar between Vietnamese Tet and Israeli "Tet": It's a time for family gathering and all the activities are family-oriented. After a busy year, members of larger families will stay together, celebrate the New Year and enjoy traditional food.

Inner Sanctum: What amazes you the most among these traditions?

I'm not sure it is a tradition, but I'm amazed with the busy traffic before Tet. It's very interesting to see people riding motorbikes taking peach trees or kumquats to their houses. It makes me feel like Tet is approaching and spring is in the air.

Inner Sanctum: How many Tet have you experienced in Viet Nam? Could you share with us some of your favourite memories of previous Tet holidays you've spent in Viet Nam?

Unbelievably this will be the fourth Tet I've experienced in Viet Nam. Time passes so quickly. To me, Tet is also the time to gather our Embassy members together to reflect on how we worked together as a team and to head for new hopes and plans in the coming year. — VNS