Happy Lunar New Year! I am not Chinese so I do not celebrate “Chinese New Year”. I am however Vietnamese and celebrate “Tết Nguyên Đán” or Vietnamese New Year. I was born in Saigon, Viet Nam but primarily raised in the U.S. I grew up celebrating this day with my family and struggling with trying to understand the meaning behind the most important day of the year for Vietnamese people. There was no internet back in the 1970’s when we came to the U.S. so I couldn’t just do a Google search for what I wanted to know. Instead, I observed my parents and my older brothers and sisters.
My family would take the day off from work and school and we would celebrate together. My parents would prepare for this day weeks in advance with traditional Vietnamese foods such as “bánh chưng” that we only ate during this time of year. It was painstaking laborious work but I think they enjoyed every minute of it because they did this ritual every year for as long as they could and they would always share our foods with friends and family too.
As I grow older and am in a bi-cultural marriage I struggle even more so with trying to understand the Vietnamese traditions along with feeling the responsibility to carry on the torch for my parents who have both passed. I want my kids to know their heritage and traditions and carry them on as well. I’ve asked myself, “Why is this so important?”
Recently my kids and I watched some documentaries on Ancient Egyptian Kings and Queens. We watched as anthropologists studied mummies, ancestoral relationships and homicides from thousands of years ago to understand the culture. It occurred to me that I don’t want my grandkids or my kids for that matter to have to resort to just reading about their heritage and traditions. I want them to know them first hand and practice them and to be able to tell stories from their own experiences. I want my kids to be able to carry on the torch.
If that means beating a dead horse and retelling the same stories to my kids every year about how I used to “help” my mom (or eat rather) make the dried candied coconut ribbons then so be it. It doesn’t hurt to let them eat some treats when I’m telling the story either.
This year I took them to a Vietnamese supermarket as a cultural field trip a few days prior to Tết and it was booming with activity, people buying foods to prepare for Tết and all the cornucopia associated with the holiday. Bribery works well too with the annual Red Envelopes or Lucky Money called “li xi”. My kids may not know a lot of the Tết traditions yet but they definitely know what’s in the li xi!
So if my family and friends think I’m talking too much about Tết and making such a big deal about it I hope that one day they will realize that it matters.