Gifts from Home before a Holiday in my New Home

I don’t know if I mentioned yet that I got some lovely care packages from home recently. Thank you Rachel, Diane, Aunt Barb and Christyn!  I loved all the goods, and am making good use of them. Every shopping trip now requires the Grange Fair bag that Aunt Barb sent, and I can’t wait for next Christmas to decorate with all the holiday cheer Diane put through the mail. Christyn’s package was full of lovely and eclectic surprises, and you all know that Rachel sent Farkle which Colleen was gracious enough to play for HOURS on end with me over Christmas.

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My adored Grange Fair shopping tote!

Anyway, I was reminded of this bounty when I decided to bike across town tonight to have dinner with friends. I rarely bike in the dark because I am a bit intimidated by it even though my bike has a light on the front and a reflector on the back and I live in a land with street lamps. However, Rachel’s package contained some bike lights that I could add to my bike, and tonight was the night that I opened the package and made it happen.

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My bike with its extra fashionable lights. One is red and one is white!

Right now, the city is gearing up for Tet, and there are people and plants and flowers and vendors everywhere.   Everyone is smiling and kind and happy, and I am so excited to experience this holiday spirit. Though Vietnam did a lovely job decorating for Christmas and humoring those of us excited about the holiday, this is clearly a different level of passion for Vietnam’s one major celebration. So tonight, as I bike home through the party of the streets, I am smiling and waving at kind looking strangers. Then, I get stopped by a red light, and these 2 young men on the motorbike stopped beside me are examining my bike lights and kind of laughing. I asked if they liked my lights, and they knew enough English to say yes. I thanked them for their interest and admiration and told them that they were a gift before I biked off (because the light turned green). I feel pretty certain that my lights will become a trend as soon as someone figures out how to replicate the design. I am happy that I can be a trendsetter here. Thanks Rachel for making it happen!

So, thanks for all the gifts, and don’t feel compelled to send more. I can’t believe what they charged you for postage. Robbery. I guess those packages did require a lot of handling and travel though.

Now, about Tet…this is THE holiday in my new home, and I am only just starting to understand what a big deal it is. I will try to get some pictures of the preparations and decorations soon. I am planning to go downtown to participate in the madness on Friday night between work and picking Christyn up at the airport. More on the excitement of our reunion soon.

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I borrowed all these Tet photos from google, but essentially, you can see that some streets downtown (and here in Phu My Hung) are closed for flowers. Beautiful. Red and yellow are the dominant colors – hello, flag – but some of the trees have these gorgeous pink blossoms.

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These trees on sidewalks are everywhere, and every business has signs and decals wishing people well.

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I hope I get to see this adorable little one among the fields of flowers. So cute.

Today at work, we got an email from one of the members of our HR team trying to clarify for us newbies what the holiday is and explain some of the gift giving traditions to make us less awkward during this time. While I won’t bore you with all the details of how to tip the doorman, I will share the first part so that you can get a sense of the holiday I am about to experience.

Dear All,

For those of you who are new to Vietnam and/or would like to learn more about Tet, here is some information that may be helpful to you.

“Tet” in a nutshell:

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival, “Tet”, is the most significant holiday in the Vietnamese culture. During these days, people welcome a new coming year with good health, lucks and success. It is like several holidays rolled into one:

  • Thanksgiving: time to reflect on one’s good fortunes and give thanks; focus on food and family, including ancestors
  • Christmas: festive, joyful atmosphere; time off from work and school; giving of gifts
  • Birthday: everyone turns a year older on Tet
  • First Day of Spring: the Tet trees (one is similar to kumquat tree and the other one is the hoa mai with yellow flowers called “Mai” only blooms during this time); only certain fruit is in season
  • Pilgrimage/Family Reunion: time to return home to family and catch up with family affairs; paying respect to ancestors, visit relatives and temples, forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year.

Reference websites: www.vietnamtourism.vn | http://en.wikipedia.org

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This is the kind of image that you see everywhere this time of year. There are certain trees that only bloom around this time of year that are very special. Chuc Mung Nam Moi is how you say happy new year. I am still practicing the accents – up, down, level, up, but I think even when you say it poorly, people know what you mean this time.

“Lucky Money” or “Lixi”:

Traditionally Vietnamese people gave “lucky money” or “Lixi” only to children at Tet. It is a small amount of money that can bring luck and good fortune to the upcoming year. In modern times, people began giving gift baskets to their bosses, neighbors, elders, colleagues, business partners, etc. much like the Western tradition of Christmas gifts.

Reference website: http://vietnamdiscovery.com | http://www.vietnamonline.com

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Though this isn’t my neighborhood, this reminds me of the showcase going on now in some gardens near our mall.

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Women wearing traditional dresses, ao dai, to admire flowers. Some women wear these outfits every day as work uniforms, but most people dress in more casual and modern clothing.

I am excited to keep experiencing these new traditions and learning about my new home.

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