Patrick McAllister is currently professor of Anthropology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
He specialises in the study of large public events such as naional days, national festivals, etc.
He has started studying Tết since 2008.
This will be his 6th Tết.
When I became interested in Việt Nam I decided that a good way to learn about the country, its people and their culture, would be to do research on Tết.
In my experience, important national days like Tết are a window through which one can see many aspects of life.
So from 2008 onwards I have come to Việt Nam for Tết every year, spoken to many people, and visited many homes in Hồ Chí Minh City, Cần Thơ, Hà Nội, Đà Nẵng, Vũng Tàu, and elsewhere.
People have been very kind and generous in sharing their knowledge and beliefs with me.
My original belief that Tết allows one to see many aspects of Vietnamese history, tradition and culture was correct.
Through studying Tết I came to realise many things about Vietnamese life, such as the importance of family, the respect people give to their ancestors, and the many beliefs that people have about gods and spirits.
It is also clear that not everybody is the same – different families, regions, cities and religious groups have different Tết customs and beliefs.
For example, in Tân Phú and Tân Bình districts of Hồ Chí Minh City, people who trace their origins to Quảng Nam and other areas in centre of Việt Nam have a custom called ‘cúng xóm’ which they perform 9 or 10 days after Tet.
In this they worship all the gods and spirits associated with the land, and also the ‘homeless ghosts’ (cô hồn).
Other people in Hồ Chí Minh City do not know about this, and are surprised when I inform them about it.
It is also clear that although many Tết customs are traditional, Tết is also changing and developing from year to year, and this is normal, things do not stay the same.
Travelling overseas, or to another part of Việt Nam for a short holiday during Tết has become quite common, but usually those who travel also try to make sure that they spend part of the Tết holiday at home with their family.
Tradition and modernity can be combined – another example of this is the annual Ông Táo Về Trời TV show.
Many people send Ông Táo/Táo Quân to heaven in the traditional way on 25 December, and also watch this TV show a few days later.
PROF. PATRICK MCALLISTER