In the final hours of 2022, Sasha Mai sat on a boat cruising the Saigon River and made a list of New Year’s resolutions.
“I write down the hopes and aspirations for the coming year, including life and personal goals,” the 31-year-old said.
The Vietnamese-American girl from California has made new friends here enjoying Tet (Lunar New Year) in Vietnam every year for the last six years.
Mai had just spent Christmas with her sister’s American family who she hadn’t seen in seven years.
Phu Quoc was the highlight of the family vacation, she said, adding that Christmas dinner at an Italian restaurant in HCMC’s Thao Dien was also unforgettable and delicious.
“On December 25th, my sister’s family left Vietnam. That’s why I rang in the new year with my friends,” she said.
Sasha Mai celebrates New Year’s Eve with dinner and fireworks on a Saigon River yacht. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam
Mai is a native Vietnamese speaker who works for a tech company in HCMC’s District 7. She said that in the states households normally hold an intimate party with a champagne welcome the New Year. Everyone gets together to watch fireworks, she said, adding that in New York, thousands of people crowd the streets to find a good spot to watch the ball drop in Times Square.
The “midnight kiss” is a particular American ritual in which people kiss each other as midnight strikes to bring them luck and good fortune for the New Year, according to Mai.
For Mai, New Year’s Eve in Vietnam is just as exciting as it is in America. She cruised along the Saigon River on a yacht tour with friends to watch Ho Chi Minh City’s fireworks show.
“My (Vietnamese) boyfriend and I were too busy on New Year’s Eve two years ago to seal a midnight kiss,” she smiled. “But this year, we did it!”
Another New Year tradition for Mai is reflecting on the past year and planning for the future by writing in her diary.
“This New Year, I want to learn more about programming, live better, and go to bed earlier,” she revealed.
New Year Spring Roller
Alushka Jansen Van Vuuren, a 29-year-old South African whose birthday is near New Year’s Day, threw a grand celebration on New Year’s Eve at her HCMC home that is still shimmering with Christmas decorations.
After a decade of practice, Alushka is now confident in her ability to roll Vietnamese spring rolls. In addition, she also made banh tet, Vietnam’s traditional glutinous rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. So it was definitely a Vietnamese New Year’s Eve celebrations for her this year.
Alushka’s mother was taken aback when she saw all the traditional Vietnamese food her daughter had prepared and laid out on a big family spread.
“Why are you eating leaves,” asked the South African mother over the phone via a video call app. “Where’s the meat and potatoes?”
Alushka also told VnExpress that said her party was filled with booze and lasted all night. She and her friends sat in the living room, chatting and exchanging gifts.
She said the New Year is a big event South Africa in which people also kiss each other at midnight, “the sacred hour.”
“Vietnamese people are sentimental and affable people who often have family gatherings to celebrate special occasions. As a result, I respect their customs and don’t want to disrupt the family atmosphere when asking my local friends to hang out on important days,” she said.
From Syria to Russia
Yazan Safi in his Hanoi office on the evening of December 31, 2022. Photo courtesy of Safi
After six years living in Vietnam, New Year’s is just another day at the office for Yazan Safi, director of a marketing agency. At 4:30 a.m. he was up and out the door to the gym for an early morning workout, then back home for breakfast.
The Syrian man began the rest of his day at his desk at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t shutdown his laptop till 9 p.m. Safi admits to being a “workaholic” and has never gone out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vietnam.
During his time in Syria, Safi began his New Year’s Eve celebrations as early as December 23, even before Christmas. Snow would have already blanketed the downtown streets and his family would gather around the dinner table to eat traditional food.
He speaks Vietnamese well and adores Vietnamese culture. However, due to his aversion to crowds and traffic jams, he avoids New Year’s Eve countdown festivities in Vietnam.
He is proud to work hard in order to maintain his image in the eyes of partners and customers.
“If I had family in Vietnam, I would enjoy my holiday more. And my children would undoubtedly enjoy their Tet break.”
Oleg Ponfilenok, a 37-year-old Russian man, says he will be celebrating Tet in Vietnam in 2023.
“Like traditional Tet in Vietnam, New Year’s celebrations in Russia are a time for my family to get together and talk about the past year. We all gather together to put up the Christmas tree and exchange presents under it,” he said.
He believes that a table full of food heralds prosperity for the New Year and thus is why his family always prepares a large feast, adding that the must-have foods were cabbage rolls and the red beet salted salmon salad.
He fell in love with Thanh Tam, a 27-year-old Vietnamese woman, two years ago. Since he built his career in his wife’s home country, he’s spent Tet here for the past two years.
Ponfilenok’s parents are too busy with work to visit Vietnam and ring in the new year with their son’s relatives here. Since the distance between them so vast, they plan to celebrate Tet virtually instead.
Oleg Ponfilenok poses for a photo with his wife and child ahead of New Year’s Eve. Photo courtesy of Ponfilenok
Oleg and his wife spent New Year’s Eve on a secluded island off the coast of Nha Trang this year. Their New Year’s Eve dinner included Olivier salad and cabbage rolls stuffed with pork.
He said: “For New Year’s Eve, we had olivier salad and meat-rolled cabbage. If the hotel didn’t have it on the menu, I would have asked staff to prepare [the traditional Russian foods] for us so we can eat them and drink champagne together.”
In the final hours of 2022, they wished their Russian relatives a happy New Year and sent them love over the phone.
For the past two years, Oleg has made a hobby of meticulously planning special presents for his wife and kids, and he also loves preparing traditiona Russian holiday foods to teach them about his homeland’s culture.
“My husband frequently says that he would be overjoyed if our parents could celebrate the New Year together,” said his wife Tam. “He is extremely excellent at hiding his feelings, but when New Year’s Eve approaches, his sorrowful eyes that miss his hometown can’t be hidden.”
It doesn’t matter if Mai, Ponfilenok, Van Vuuren, or Safi spends New Year’s Eve 2023 together with their families in person or online because they still have loved ones in their lives. They hope everyone has a prosperous and healthy 2023.
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