Through Christmas and New Year I frequently lamented the lack of event here in Hanoi. Christmas came and went, and not a lot really happened. On Christmas Day most Hanoians continued about their daily lives with a minimum of fuss and little ceremony. New Year’s eve felt slightly different, with a few thousand people gathering around the central Hoan Kiem lake. But then it got to midnight… And nothing happened then either. No countdown, no fireworks, no cheers or celebration as the clock turned 12. One minute it was 11.59pm, then it was 12.01am. And no-one seemed to take a blind bit of notice.
Well, it turns out the reason for this supposed apathy is that the actual New Year here in Vietnam happened last night, in tune not with our Gregorian calendar, but with the Lunar calendar. The Lunar New Year in Vietnam is called Tet. It takes place in the middle of two weeks of public holidays, and the locals thus take their chance to flee Hanoi and return to their families in the villages in the surrounding countryside. On the news you’ll have seen stories about Chinese New Year, which is the same thing as Tet. But don’t be fooled, it isn’t only the Chinese who celebrate. From what I saw last night, the Vietnamese make a pretty big deal of Tet as well.
For the last week the excitement has been building. There’s been that frantic snap in the air, the sense of an event approaching, an atmosphere gathering. Some days have just felt different, building to a crescendo at midnight last night with a spectacular firework display at Hoan Kiem lake witnessed by tens of thousands of people.
It really is a big deal, and the sense of occasion around the city for the last week has indeed reminded me of Christmas. From the annual work Tet Party (where I dressed first I traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai clothes, and then dressed as a fox to dance to What Does The Fox Say) to the palpable sense of excitement everywhere you look; from the traditions and cultural quirks to the fact that today almost everything in Hanoi is shut, save for the life saving Tracey’s Burgers and their wonderful delivery service. Its essentially a second Christmas for me!
Immediately after midnight last night, throughout the Old Quarter and across Hanoi, thousands of small fires were lit by the side of the road as locals burned offerings to their ancestors – money (well, fake money), clothes, cigarettes. As I drove back through Hanoi, sometime around 3am, people were flocking to temples and pagodas to worship. I’m told this is a process which will continue for a few days yet.
We’ve still got a week off work, so I’m taking full advantage by heading up to Ba Be national park for a few days on the bike. It should be a fun if rather cold little adventure. And on that note I need to go pack…
Chúc mừng năm mới!