Tet Nguyen Dan, familiar to most simply as ‘Tet’, has for two generations had a tainted connotation in the minds of most Americans.  Meaning Feast of the First Morning, it is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam, celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year.  To the Vietnamese, besides being a celebration of the New Year, it also heralds the arrival of Spring based on the lunar calendar. 

However, to students of the Vietnam conflict, it is eternally associated with the massive military campaign launched by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army in 1968, aimed at seizing military and civilian command centers throughout the country.  Though the communists were ultimately defeated in this battle, it took American, Australian and ARVN forces by surprise and was the first indication of the level of tactical organization that North Vietnam’s military forces possessed—and also, perhaps, of the depth of their duplicity.  Despite have declared a cease-fire to celebrate the New Year, the operations commenced early on the first morning of Tet Nguyen Dan; thus, it is referred to as ‘The Tet Offensive’.

Forty-two years later, though the memories persist, it was an extremely heartening experience to see Detroit’s Vietnamese community turn out at Divine Providence Church in Southfield to enjoy the holiday with all the traditional fanfare of dancing, song and comradery.  Well attended both by first and second generation Vietnamese, there was also a considerable show of support from Vietnam Veterans of Michigan, with whom many of the Vietnamese in their fifties and sixties struggled alongside in that long-ago conflict.

No mention of the war was overheard, unless it was in Vietnamese; rather, the focus was on the children.  The tradition of Red Envelopes, in which monetary gifts are presented, was observed, as was the colorful ‘Lion Dance’ in which performers of all ages danced in lion costumes, mimicking the movements of the King of Beasts.

It has been nearly fifty years since the suffering of The Tet Offensive; the fifty centuries since Vietnam was founded by Emperor Hung Vuong, proving that the resilience of this remarkable people can long outlive the trials of war.


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