The Vietnamese saying that ‘Lunar January is a month for pleasure and relaxation’ relates to the lives of people in an agricultural society in days long gone. As wet rice cultivation was seasonal, there was indeed a time for leisure at the beginning of the lunar new year, when everyone could take the advantage of the poor weather and take a break. The outdated custom, though, continues among many workers in modern-day Vietnam.
After a week off for the Tet holidays, everyone returns to the office but that’s not to say everyone works.
At 10am on the first day back at work, there was no one at the offices of the People’s Committee of Ngoc Khanh Ward in Hanoi, though its doors were open as usual. Some people were at the office looking to complete paperwork but there was no one there to take receipt. The doorkeeper said leaders and staff were all busy visiting each other to pass on their best wishes for the new year. As he didn’t know when they would return to work, he advised people to go home.
Visiting co-workers at the beginning of the new year is a common practice for many, particularly those employed at State-owned and public administration organizations.
After a week off for Tet, the first day back resembles a small festival at some companies. Receiving lucky money from the boss has become a new custom at some workplaces, even though traditionally it’s been adults giving lucky money to kids. It’s also become common for people to post photos of themselves with their lucky red envelope on Facebook, to compare with friends and wait for positive comments for the new year.
The first day back at the office is also a good time to chit-chat about how everyone spent the holiday. Visiting home to cook and party with family, friends, and relatives, travelling to discover new lands, suffering higher prices of nearly everything before and after Tet, enduring the traffic jams coming back to Hanoi, and being put out by the housekeeper not getting back to work on the agreed day; all such talk must be shared right away.
And it doesn’t end there. Leaving the office earlier to get together at a beauty salon has become common among female co-workers on the opening days of the new year. Two birds can be killed with one stone. They can relax, get a massage or have a beauty treatment while chit-chatting at the same time. ‘In the happy atmosphere of the new year and even after the holidays, we don’t have the mind to work,’ said Ngoc Mai, an accountant. ‘We want to enjoy a few more days off. We work the whole year so it’s just a little more relaxing and doesn’t affect our work.’ She added that there’s not much to do at her company at the beginning of the new year.
Sharing the same view as Mai, Thanh Tan, a salesman with a real estate firm, said the industry is known for being pretty quiet just after Tet so everyone can relax a little longer. Tet, he explained, is a time to clean the house, prepare traditional food, welcome family and guests and visit friends and relatives, and can be a touch stressful. So having parties with colleagues after returning to work is expected and very much welcome.
Lunch is the best time for after-Tet parties, which usually extend well into the afternoon. After a visit to a nice restaurant comes karaoke, with some singing to celebrate the new year. Most restaurants and more crowded than offices.
The custom of visiting each other to pass on best wishes also results in a house party or two after Tet.
Thu Huong and her office colleagues now have a custom of gathering at her house for lunch on the first day back at work, where everyone enjoys her cooking skills. There’s normally some food and drink left over from the holiday so throwing a small party doesn’t take too much effort. Like others, her post-Tet party goes all afternoon and no one heads back to the office afterwards.
A long-standing tradition is to visit temples and pagodas in the early spring to pray with family, friends and colleagues for good fortune and prosperity in the new year. So popular worshipping places are also quite crowded on these first days ‘back at work’. Hoang Hai, an IT engineer, said his boss like his staff to go to pagodas together on the first day after the holiday. ‘Like other businesspeople, he has a strong belief in spiritual power, so this is almost part of the job,’ he smiled.
In the same spirit, many companies organise ‘spring trips’ for a few days, often to one of the many local festivals held right after Tet.
These festivals were created in the past by farmers for entertainment during their leisure time after the harvest. Joining in these festivals, replete with ceremonies, games and a joyful atmosphere, is also considered a way to ‘think of the man who planted the tree when you eat the fruit’. Travelling during the spring has also become common, to contemplate beautiful landscapes as winter fades away and fresh beginnings arrive in the new year. It’s also good for team building, according to Hai.
So while the body is back to work after Tet, the mind only returns after the first full moon of the first lunar month. ‘A festive and relaxing atmosphere is everywhere,’ Mai said. ‘Joining in makes us feel as though we have more energy to start working again in the new year.’