I was very fortunate to be invited by one of my favorite students, Nhut, to visit him and his family during this festive time of year. My own Tet experience wasn’t a terribly profound exploration of the New Year’s rites and rituals; Nhut’s family isn’t terribly religious: despite his telling me that sweeping the floor during Tet brings bad luck, his aunt went ahead and swept their floor during my stay with his family.
According to some of my students, Tet has become less significant in recent years. Yes, the city basically shuts down, but the holiday is apparently less “special.” Traditional recipes are purchased as finished goods rather than lovingly and painstakingly made at home, since no one has the time to prepare them. People kept telling me that basically they stayed at home, ate, and then eventually went to visit their friends (and drink).
My experience was like attending an extended family reunion, complete with lots of food, relatives who will not let you stop eating until they are satisfied you had had enough, men boozing it up as they dined together, sitting in a circle on the floor, asking intrusive questions about one’s life and exchanging loads of family gossip as this is the rare time everyone is able to be together. There’s quite a bit to catch up on!
I was welcomed graciously into Nhut’s family’s home. The first day of Tet found me sitting on the back steps prepping vegetables for lunch. A doleful clucking sound from the kitchen made me aware that while I was peeling cucumbers, a chicken was being killed in the kitchen for our meal. My prep skills earned praise when I managed to successfully peel a pineapple in the Vietnamese spiral style under the watchful eyes of Nhut’s parents, sister, aunt, uncle and cousins.
The food everyday was delightful; we even picked our own pomelos and star apples and ate them right there in their respective orchards.
– Abby Mensing