Overseas Vietnameses Nostalgic for Homeland Tet

Nguyen Thi Thao, an overseas Vietnamese in Washington D.C, always tries to make chung cake and take the whole family shopping for Tet (Lunar New Year) to remind her children and grandchildren of the taste of Vietnamese Tet.
February 07, 2024 | 12:01

Every Spring Festival, Nguyen Phuong Thao, an overseas Vietnamese living in Washington D.C, takes the opportunity to take her whole family to Tet (Lunar New Year) shopping at the Vietnamese market to together recreate the taste of Tet in her hometown, and remind her children and grandchildren about the cultural beauties of the homeland during Tet.

Sharing with Vietnam News Agency reporters in Washington, Thao said that this year, Tet has the full meaning of reunion when Thao and her family welcomed her biological father from Vietnam. The children and grandchildren were able to gather to come home for a weekend Tet holiday.

Expats in Foreign Lands Miss Flavors of Vietnamese Tet
Nguyen Phuong Thao's family take a photo next to the ornamental peach blossom tree at the Vietnamese market in the US. Photo: VNA

Thao went to the US to work for the World Bank and has lived in the state of Virginia for nearly 20 years.

The first time he celebrated Vietnamese Tet with his daughter's family in the US, Nguyen Hoang Nghia - Thao's father - also felt less homesick when his children and grandchildren took him shopping for Tet at a Vietnamese market in Virginia.

Nghia shared that the Tet in the US is also quite full of Tet goods like in Vietnam. Through Tet shopping with his children and grandchildren, he can teach them about traditional customs during Tet in Vietnam, help them know that they need to decorate the house cleanly and buy flowers such as peach branches and apricot branches. At the same time, give each other the best wishes, children will receive lucky money from adults at the beginning of the year.

Thao also got emotional when talking about the Tet atmosphere in the US. As a Hanoian, Thao still remembers the things that are missing in the US during Vietnamese Tet such as peach blossom branches, kumquat trees, and dong leaves.

"In the US, it is difficult to boil banh chung in the yard or on the street like in Vietnam because of fire safety concerns, there are no relatives or a full family to come and celebrate Tet, children are not given lucky money, so I still miss the Tet atmosphere of my hometown," Thao said.

Perhaps because it is not as complete as the Tet atmosphere in her hometown, Thao always tries to keep wrapping banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) and taking the whole family shopping to remind her children of the flavors of Vietnamese Tet.

This year, the Vietnamese Tet market, in addition to familiar products and traditional ao dai, is also decorated with an area to hang Tet couplets so that everyone can understand filial piety and Tet customs of Vietnamese people.

This is quite new for Vietnamese children who were born and raised in the US and have never experienced Tet in Vietnam like Cam Tu, Thao's daughter.

Expats in Foreign Lands Miss Flavors of Vietnamese Tet
Thao's whole family lit incense to worship their ancestors during Tet. Photo: VNA

Cam Tu talked about her limited Vietnamese knowledge with broken Vietnamese. "Today I learned more about the flowers that are often displayed for Tet such as chrysanthemums, claliolus, narcissus. I will try to learn Vietnamese so I can learn more about Tet in Vietnam. I only know how to listen and understand a little Vietnamese and this year I am 15 years old but I have never to return to celebrate Tet in Vietnam."

Family reunion atmosphere, giving each other best wishes during Tet days and typical dishes with green chung cake and red couplets.

With Thao's husband, James Gaites, Vietnamese Tet has become very familiar. For him, the red ao dai that he loves so much is indispensable during Tet. He always chooses to wear red ao dai on special occasions in Vietnam.

This year, James also bought an ao dai with a Dragon image embroidered because he knew 2024 is the Year of the Dragon.

James has been to Vietnam twice but have never spend Tet holiday in Vietnam. His wife is a good cook so he really likes Vietnamese food. He likes eating banh chung made by his wife on Tet. Every year during Tet, he wraps a lot of banh chung with his wife. His wife often fries banh chung, but he prefers to eat boiled version.

However, Vietnamese families, especially those of Northern origin, still lack some familiar things that cannot be bought at Vietnamese Tet markets in the US such as dong leaves, peach branches, kumquat trees.

Children don't often get to gather around a wood stove to boil a huge pot of green banh chung like Thao's childhood day in Hanoi.

The beautiful memories of Tet of people far away from home will never fade away, that nostalgia will last forever and be passed on to future generations.

Remembering Tet means remembering culture, remembering the traditional beauty that carries the unique identity of the Vietnamese people.

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