I very rarely write about my Vietnamese heritage, but that is not to say it isn't important to me. I was raised with Vietnamese lullabies, Vietnamese food, and constant reminders at home to nói tiếng việt nam! ("speak Vietnamese!"). Thrice my parents took me to visit their homeland; I loved it every time. And every year, at the end of January or beginning of February, I celebrate the Lunar New Year.
For the fourth year in a row now, I am celebrating Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, without my family. But this year, for the first time ever, I set out to follow the tradition to rước ông bà về ăn Tết (bring the ancestors home to celebrate the new year). It is hard to explain how meaningful it really is to someone who was not raised with this, the action of setting out flowers, fruit, food, tea, and incense to cúng Tết, but I have missed it every single year that I have not been home. It is hard when you are on your own to carry on the traditions that you are used to having your parents carry out for you, but I think it's a necessity.
I don't have everything that I needed, and this was hardly the traditional layout, but nevertheless it was something that I wanted to do the best that I could. I even talked with my mom on the phone to make sure that the fruit I used was appropriate, as some fruits are not supposed to be set out to cúng (for example, oranges). And it was in doing this -- making the tea, arranging the fruit, getting out the bánh chưng -- that I realized how important these traditions are in my life. I do not want my children to grow up not knowing what it means to cúng Tết and to rước Ông Bà về. I want my children to know the steamed rolls of sticky green rice, mung bean, and pork that so represent this time of year in my mind. I want them to know the reason why we set out food. I want them to know to eat vegetarian on the first day of the year. Most of all, I want them to know their mother's culture. I want to raise my children knowing their heritage as I was raised to know mine. And so I will try my best to carry out all that my parents have done for me.
Happy Lunar New Year.
May the Year of the Dragon bring you good health, good luck, and happiness.