I had the incredibly opportunity to experience Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) in Vietnam this year. Instead of packing my bags and heading to an exotic location for some downtime, I spent my two weeks off with my entire family in Saigon. Prior to Tet, I thought about where I could travel to and what places I could go see but I figured that I should spend time with my distant family abroad and take advantage of the biggest holiday in the country.

I had experienced Tet back home every year and I knew what to expect but I quickly found out that I was playing in a whole new ball field here in Vietnam. This is not a holiday that is taken lightly. Just imagine Christmas combined with New Years Eve, and maybe throw in birthdays. A week prior to Tet is total chaos because every family is trying to prepare gifts and certain foods. The markets are completely flooded with business because most places are closed during the week of Tet so people are preparing ahead of time. My favorite part of Tet was going to the Tet market (choTet) and seeing all the wondering plants and flowers on display.

Tet in Saigon is something truly amazing and the city comes alive. The city is already bustling and invigorating, but during Tet it transform into a different city. Saigon does not spare any expenses when it comes to decorations for the city so I often stumbled upon elaborate displays. The most impressive were all the lights that were strung throughout the streets, which made it look like I was walking through a winter wonderland display at Magic Kingdom. On the night of actual New Years, I was lucky to get a nice view of the firework show. My parent’s recently bought a condominium and we were able to go on top of the roof and watch the show from there. It was an impressive 15 minutes firework show and it seemed like every single person living in the city came out just to watch the show. The streets were packed and pretty chaotic. The energy that night is indescribable and I will never forget it.

The following day, my family went over to my grandmother’s house for Tet celebrations with the entire extended family. I was a little nervous because this was my first time seeing some family members in about 8 years. I felt right at home when all of my family members arrived and it was nice to be able to reconnect with old cousins that I had lost touch with. The biggest tradition of Tet is the distributing of lucky money in red envelops to children. Since I had never celebrated Tet with my family and I did not have an official job, I was able to receive some money from the family. I have to say that this was the most embarrassing part of my holiday because I was receiving money along with my little cousins that were younger than 15. I felt a little guilty but my family only insisted. I left my grandmother’s house a little richer that day and I will forever be grateful for my lucky money this year.

Overall, this was a great Tet and I will never forget spending it with my entire family. It was truly a magical experience spending this holiday in Vietnam and with my extended family here. I am not sure when the next time I will be able to spend Tet in Vietnam, but this one will forever be etched in my mind.

 – Iris Nguyen, teacher at An Giang University