Perhaps because Tet is such a "High holiday" for Vietnamese - one that raise so many expectations in the young and commands so many duties from the old - it has always been an ambivalent occasion for me. With each passing year, Tet seems less a time of celebration and more a season of rituals. As a long-time participant and organizer of Tet festivals in the United States, I often wonder which traditions are worth keeping, and which represent the true flavor of the cultural celebration.
Take the common custom of paying off one's debts before the end of the year. From the time I became aware of this custom, Tet rapidly began to lose its luster. I can remember my parents scrounging to pay off their debts. At times, they simply had old ones. Of course they were no better off financially in the following year, and so the cycles continued, just as the natural seasons, or as the fate of poor people everywhere. Looking back, I can only imagine what kind of hardship this hopeful custom exerted on families like us. Now living on a comfortable enough teacher's salary in one of the still not sure whether I have actually managed to break this cycle. On the one hand, I no longer run from pillar to post during the last two weeks of the lunar year, trying to plug the holes in my finances. And that's a genuine relief. On the other hand, it's a bank that owns my home, and if I don't keep up with my monthly mortgage payment, I'll soon come with a rhythm as precise as that of the season: health insurance, car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, various credit cards, property taxes, even an earthquake insurance for what we hope will not happen in this lifetime. In short, I owe practically everything to a few banks, companies, or government agencies, And I'm not alone: about 70 percent of the American population lives this way. Your vacation with Vietnam Travel in traditional Tet season should be unforgetable for you and for your family.
Yet, Tet is still Tet. We cannot escape the palpable change in seasons, the anticipated celebrations or the heritage that made us a distinct people. Most of all, we have an obligation to help our children continue this tradition. In nearly 40 years spent in the United States, I have seen this tradition evolve, and even had a small hand in that evolution.
In my student days, before 1975, there were about 1,000 Vietnamese students in the U.S Tet was not a holiday, neither in school nor to the knowledge of the general public. We went to class and to work, as songwriter Trinh Cong Son wrote at the time: "A day like any other day". We made do with Tet during Christmas time when everyone else went home and the stores closed down. Some of the more enterprising Catholic students, with help from chaplains, organized a gathering of "Viet Students in the U.S," usually in a centrally located city like Chicago.