Embracing our diverse stories: Celebrating the Lunar New Year with Skedulo’s Khoi Phan
Happy Lunar New Year! It’s that time of year when an estimated 1.5 billion people around the world (especially in Asia) observe Lunar New Year, marking the first moon in the lunar calendar.
Celebrations can last for up to 15 days, or until the next full moon, depending on the location. Every country celebrates differently with its own traditions and customs.
To learn more about Tết (the name for Lunar New Year in Vietnam) and what it means to celebrate this special occasion, I interviewed our colleague Khoi Phan through our Embracing our Diverse Stories initiative. This storytelling platform focuses on diverse perspectives and backgrounds and highlights the unique experiences that have shaped the identity of Skedulo employees to be who they are today.
Khoi is a Quality Analyst with our team in Vietnam, and has been with Skedulo for almost a year after joining to be part of Skedulo’s vaccination project.
Khoi shared his love for soccer (his fave team is Manchester United), why he can’t live without his favorite breakfast Banh Mi (he recommends paté, butter, ham, pork bologna, and plenty of cilantro sprinkled on top), and how he can’t wait to try Banh Mi at a bakery (Bà Huyền) owned by a team mate’s family (which has been in business for almost 30 years!).
I asked Khoi to tell us about his experience of Tết, including the impact COVID has had on celebrations.
“In Saigon where I live, things have been getting much better here since people have been getting vaccinated. We’re on track to having a normal life again, just in time for Tết – which is important because we need to prepare for it properly. It’s the biggest and most important holiday in Vietnam.”
Most people take a week or more off work during Tết, especially if they need to travel back to their hometown.
“Tết is very much about family,” says Khoi. “Many people come to Saigon for jobs and opportunities, and rarely have time off during the year. Tết is the only time they can go back to their hometown to see their family again. For some people, the whole purpose of Tết is so they can reunite with loved ones.”
Khoi says Tết preparations begin at least 2 weeks before the big New Year’s Day celebration.
“Tết is New Year in a nutshell, so ‘New Year, New Me’ applies. We think about changing our image and appearance, which washes away all the bad things from the previous year. We shop for new clothes, and take our time to pick the best dress so we can stand out and impress.
“Hair is also important. When I was a student, before every Tết, a popular question my friends asked was: What color are you gonna dye your hair? Most public schools here have a very strict dress code, but during Tết students can let go. So, when you’re out on the street and see some people with crazy hairstyles, chances are, they’re students expressing themselves during this time.”
Another important tradition, Khoi says, is to take care of their house. It’s believed that doing this brings fortune to the household. This includes cleaning and decorating (particularly in Tết colors of red and yellow), with special attention paid to the altar.
"Worshiping our ancestors is a very important tradition in Vietnam, especially during Tết. Thanks to them, we can enjoy the life we have today."
“So, we cook some food, but we don’t eat it right away. We put it up on the altar first and pray. This is how we express gratitude towards them, and how we symbolically invite them to join and have a meal with us for New Year.”
“The food most associated with Tết is Banh Chung, which roughly translates to Square Sticky Rice Cake. It contains sticky rice, mung bean and pork belly, all wrapped in banana leaves. It takes a lot of time and effort to make.”
Once preparations are complete, everyone waits in anticipation for the first full moon. I asked Khoi to share what happens on New Year’s Day, and how the celebration unfolds.
“On New Year’s Day, fireworks light up the sky at 12am. People flock to the street to be part of the beautiful, vibrant atmosphere. In the morning, adults put money in red envelopes to give to kids and say blessings to each other. Then, we go on to have a big feast and drink. After that, we relax and do activities like singing karaoke and playing board and card games.”
It sounds like a magical time in Vietnam, so I wasn’t surprised when Khoi said anyone thinking of visiting Vietnam should plan their trip during Tết!
“Tết is one of the best reasons to come to Vietnam. You get to experience Vietnam in its purest form and learn about many unique traditions. Most of all, everyone will be in holiday spirit, so even if you travel alone, they will surely invite you to celebrate with them.”
I’m so grateful to Khoi for sharing his experience of Lunar New Year in Vietnam. To all Skedulo employees, customers, partners, and everyone across the world who also observes this very special holiday, I wish you a very Happy Lunar New Year!