In the absence of glorious peach or apricot blossoms without hours of gathering around a warm fire and watching a cauldron of sticky rice cakes, Vietnamese people living abroad look forward to the Vietnamese Tet.

It makes their nostalgia strong for Tet – the occasion for reuniting with family and spending time with friends after a long period of separation from Covid-19. 

A Tet corner in the house of an overseas Vietnamese in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Mia Le

In 2023, the Year of Cat comes earlier than usual, only three weeks after the Gregorian New Year’s Eve, so Europeans have got back to their usual busy life after the long Christmas break.

In order to keep up with their fellows, Vietnamese expatriates continue their business and school schedules without enjoying a long holiday for Tet. But that does not spoil their excited anticipation of the year’s most important holiday: the Vietnamese Tet.

Unable to be in Vietnam during the celebration, Hong Dinh, a public school teacher in Gwinnett County, Georgia, US returned to Vietnam for Christmas and winter break. Then she went back to the US again for work, even though the Lunar New Year was only a fortnight away.

Her duties as department head don’t leave Hong Dinh much time to prepare for Tet. But no matter how busy she is or even half a world away from home, She like many Vietnamese in the US places great importance on preserving her country’s traditions and cultural identity.

Hong Dinh and her colleagues from Gwinnett County Public Schools, US state of Georgia. Photo courtesy of Hong Dinh

After two quiet Tet holidays because of the Covid-19 pandemic, overseas Vietnamese are now more eager than ever to celebrate the holiday, and Vietnamese markets have been filled with weekend shoppers. It’s not hard to find essential items in the US for the Vietnamese New Year celebration, from red envelopes and incense sticks to fruit candies.

Every Vietnamese family in Atlanta, Georgia, home to the second largest Vietnamese community in the United States, has an ancestral altar in their home. They often cook traditional Vietnamese dishes on the occasion of Tet. Visiting temples during Tet is also their customs for the occasion, Hong Dinh said.

Meanwhile, Tram Pham, a Vietnamese expat living in Canberra, Australia, confirmed that the Lunar New Year is always the most important holiday of the year for her family. Having resided in the ‘land of kangaroos’ for around five years, Tram Pham personally believes that Australia is a multicultural country but lacks its own culture.

“Therefore, it is extremely important to preserve cultures. Without a native culture, an entire ethnic group will have no identity and uniqueness. That’s why my family tries to maintain the celebration of the Vietnamese Tet and other customs,” Tram Pham said.

Tram Pham visits a Vietnamese pagoda in Canberra, Australia on the occasion of the Vietnamese traditional Lunar New Year. Photo courtesy of Tram Pham

The year-end worship is celebrated by Tram every Lunar New Year. Although the offering tray is much simpler than others in Vietnam, there have always banh Chung, Gio or pork bologna, Xoi or steamed sticky rice, a fruit plate, and a flower vase. In lucky years when flowers bloom in her garden and the apple tree bears fruit, Tram Pham will pick them to color the offering tray.

Many Vietnamese ingredients are available in Australia, so shopping for Tet items is not too difficult. Joss paper is harder to find in Canberra, but even without the item, she still believes that “sincerity is what matters.”

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, Tram Pham also maintains customs such as saying prayers, bringing a bucket of water into the house to wish for prosperity and boiling a kettle of water to hope for a cozy family life.

This year, Tram Pham’s family can’t return to Vietnam to enjoy the festive atmosphere with her parents, while most of her relatives are living in Australia will.

A meal for Tet holiday prepared by Tram Pham

Another overseas Vietnamese in Oceania, Minh Do, who is currently a fashion store manager of a major brand in Melbourne, shared that the Lunar New Year falls in summer in Victoria State and is not an Australian holiday, so she doesn’t have enough time to prepare as many rituals as back in Vietnam.

Besides decorating her house with fresh Vietnamese flowers like orchids and gladioli, she also takes care of a small kumquat tree pot, hoping that it will come into flower and bear fruit at the right time so that her family can experience a true Tet with relieved homesickness.

Every year, Minh and her daughter still maintain the custom of offering capon, banh Chung, Gio, fruit and wine on Lunar New Year’s Eve. The little girl loves eating traditional spring rolls and bamboo shoot soup, so these two dishes are indispensable in the first meal of the new year.

Although Tet celebrations in Hanoi are incomparable, the Vietnamese Tet market in Melbourne is also quite fun with many festivities such as singing, lion dance, Ao dai parade and street foods. Tet in Australia is simple, yet a touch of spring festival is enough to warm the expatriate hearts…

Minh Do from Victoria State and her daughter usually spend holidays with close friends. Photo courtesy of Minh Do

Tran Thien Tra, who has studied in Strasbourg, France for nine years, excitedly commented that this year, the world is active again in a state of ‘new normal’ after long periods of lockdown due to the pandemic. She hopes that Vietnamese people in France and around the world will have a cozy Tet with relatives and friends.

There are many Vietnamese in Strasbourg. Tra’s family is currently residing in the same neighborhood with five to seven others from Vietnam. Fortunately, the 2023 Lunar New Year will fall on a weekend, so fellow countrymen will hold a small party, cook traditional Vietnamese dishes and look forward to New Year’s Eve.

This year, the prices of consumer goods in Europe have increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, making it difficult for citizens to shop in supermarkets. However, this is not too much of a problem because French manufacturing industries, especially food and consumer goods, are capable of meeting the needs of the people.

“I still hope that someday I can go back to Vietnam to fully celebrate a Tet with my family and relatives. Although I still have Vietnamese friends in France, the Lunar New Year in Vietnam is still something very different. We have relatives in Vietnam, and my husband and children are always looking forward to the day when we can return to our homeland,” Tra expressed her wish.

Tran Thien Tra, an oversea Vietnamese from Strasbourg, France