VOLUME 28 NO. 7 | FEBRUARY 7 - 13, 2009


Just don’t call it Chinese New Year
Vietnamese in Seattle celebrate Tet

Last updated 2-5-09 at 2:27 p.m.

By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly

Some people may have celebrated the Gregorian New Year on Jan. 1 by setting off fireworks, drinking, partying, or maybe even watching the ball drop at Times Square on TV. However, on Jan. 26, the party hats came off during Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet, which means the first morning of the first day of the New Year in Vietnamese.
We welcomed the Year of the Ox, which marked a new year and new beginning for the Vietnamese. Despite being overseas and not being able to celebrate the New Year in their homeland, many Vietnamese Americans were still able to celebrate their cultural traditions in Seattle this year.

Many people joined to celebrate Tet this year by attending the Tet Festival last weekend, which was held at the Seattle Center. This year’s theme was “Youth and Dream.”

Several attendees seemed to agree that Tet is a time for family gatherings and celebrations with traditional foods and other customs.

Banh chung is a traditional Vietnamese sticky rice cake that is often eaten during Tet. Linh Nguyen, a board member of the Washington Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, said that there is usually mung bean and fatty pork inside sticky rice, which is wrapped in square shaped dong leaves.

Tiffany Tran, a senior at the University of Washington who celebrates Tet with her parents, said her favorite Tet food was the candied coconut pieces.

“We also take time to call our family back in Vietnam to give them good wishes for the New Year,” Tran said.

She also admitted that that even at her age, her parents still enjoy giving her “li xi,” or lucky money, in red envelopes.
Tet is similar to Chinese New Year celebrations. “Hong bao,” which literally means “red envelope” in Mandarin, is the equivalent to “li xi.” Preparing for Lunar New Year takes time and meticulousness. Many people usually clean their homes to sweep away the bad luck in order to welcome the good.

The New Year is also a time to buy new clothes and shoes to signify a fresh start to the year. And like the Chinese, Vietnamese people are very careful about what they do on New Year’s Day. This is due to superstitious reasons, as the events on New Year’s Day determine luck for the rest of the year.

Toquyen Truong, a Miss Vietnam Washington contestant, feels that Tet is important to her because it is a time when her family comes together to celebrate and remember its culture.

“I’m very happy that we still get to celebrate Tet even though we’re living in the United States,” she said. 

She also pointed out that Tet is the only time that children have days off from school and that they also receive “li xi” instead of presents, which makes the holiday a favorite for many young ones.

Steven Nguyen, another UW student who attended the festival, said, “If I was to compare Tet to Western cultural traditions, it would be a culmination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all wrapped into a three-day celebration, back to back.”

He said that Tet is an opportunity to spend time with one’s nuclear family, to spend the holiday spending time with loved ones, and “to forget the troubles of the previous year and start fresh hoping for a better new year.”

Thuan Nguyen, a Verizon sales representative, pointed out that many Vietnamese also enjoy visiting the casinos, himself included, to ring in the New Year.

Vyvyan Du, VIP host of the Seattle Tet Festival, said that Tet meant showing ap-preciation, gratitude, and respect to Vietnamese culture and traditions. “It’s a time to rekindle with family members as well,” she added.

She said that Tet was very different from celebrating the Gregorian New Year, instead of the usual drinking and partying, Tet meant reuniting with family to eat, celebrate, and most importantly, to “remember our roots.” (end)

Nina Huang can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

Photo Credit: At the Tet Festival in Seattle on Jan. 26: Dancers wear ao tu than, a Vietnamese dress. From left to right: Anna Quach, Julie Ngo, and Christina Nghiem. Photo by Diana Lee. See her online portfolio.

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