Youngsters return home to celebrate the Tet festival at a railway station in Ho Chi Minh City on Feb 5. But state-run media reported more and more youth are staying away from home due to economic reasons (Photo: UCA News)

By UCA News reporter

Feb 8 2024

For youngsters in Vietnam, the traditional Tet festival has become less of a joy and more of an economic burden, posing a threat to passing down cultural knowledge and collective memories to future generations.

Twenty-six-year-old Michael Tran Ngoc Duy is not the first in Vietnam to skip the family reunion because of mounting economic pressures during the Test festival.

The room boy at a hotel in the coastal Thua Thien Hue province has decided to bank on the boom of the popular festival, which starts on Feb 8.

This year is observed as the Year of the Dragon in the communist nation and the festival will peak on Feb 10.

Duy gets paid more during the seven-day festival, the communist nation’s biggest holiday. 

“My top priority is to keep good health and earn money rather than family reunions,” he said while adding that many people from his hometown have decided to work during the festival.

Duy has already sent money to his family in the northern province of Ha Tinh to help them celebrate the festival, which is all about kinship and ancestor worship.

He has asked the parish priest to conduct a Mass for his ancestors as an expression of gratitude.

State-run media reported that more and more people are staying away from home during the Tet festival due to economic reasons.

In the industrial hub of Binh Duong, 450,000 people chose to work in 2023, a 50 percent rise compared with 2021.

In southern Ho Chi Minh City, a financial hub, 1 million people registered to work during the Tet festival in 2022, a 30 percent hike compared with the previous year, according to the state-run social affairs department

Duy said the Tet celebrations have become costly so people prefer to stay away.

People in Vietnam clean and decorate their houses with colorful flowers and lanterns, and get new clothes for the festival.

For food, they make banh chung (square glutinous rice cake), and banh tet (round glutinous rice cake) and visit their ancestors’ tombs to show gratitude.

“I had to borrow money from friends when I returned to work last time,” Duy observed.

For Mary Nguyen Thi Nhu Hong, who works as a maid for a family in Thua Thien Hue province, this is the third year in a row that she’s skipped the family reunion during the festival.

“I called my parents to allow me to stay away,” she said.

The family reunion is a chance for parents and relatives to press their young relatives to get married. This kind of nagging is prevalent in the conservative countryside. In some cases, the pressure is intense.

Hong, 25, said she does not want to return home as she is often asked when she is getting married. Her friends in the village are married and settled in life with children.

Tram Anh, a student at a university in Ho Chi Minh City, said travel costs have increased and she decided to work at a local coffee house.

Traveling during Tet has become increasingly popular in Vietnam of late and this offers earning opportunities.

“I can earn six million dong (US$250) during the festival,” the student from the north-central Nghe An province said.

However, the 18-year-old student whose parents are farmers admits feeling lonely.

“I feel so alone. This is the first time I am away from home. But, I have no choice,” she said.

Father Augustin Nguyen Van Du, an expert in the marriage ministry, said it may be acceptable if young people earn extra during the brisk sale.

They can visit their home after the festival, he noted.

Ngo Huu Khang, a Confucian by faith from Thua Thien Hue province, said the Lunar New Year is a sacred time of emotional reunion among family members.

“People must pay respect to older people and show their gratitude to the dead,” Khang noted.

The nonagenarian said those who live and work away from homes are expected to return for family reunions.

Those who fail are disrespectful to the national tradition, he added.

Father Du warned the youth about deviating from their traditional customs.

“Young people must maintain the national and family traditions that help enrich and balance life,” the 74-year-old priest noted. – UCA News