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Friday, February 11, 2011
The Tet (New Year) Festival and the Preparations!
a guest blog by Trang
Hello, everyone! My name is Trang and my friend asked me to share with you my photos and experiences at the flower show and the Tet Festival that I attended in celebration of our Vietnamese New Year. It is one of my most favorite celebrations and I am very excited to share my adventures with you!
The Vietnamese lunar new year was February 3, but the festival was held Friday through Sunday, February 4th through the 6th. This is the Vietnamese Year of the Cat; for the Chinese and Japanese, it is the year of the Rabbit. Some of us wonder why the Vietnamese year is different, and I wonder if maybe it is because we Vietnamese are closer to cats than rabbits, in that we have more cats around us and in our homes than rabbits. But, that is only a guess!
The Tet or New Year celebration is very important in the Vietnamese culture and it lasts three days and each day there are different activities scheduled. The Tet is a time for families to reunite, a time to reconnect with our friends and a time of thanksgiving. There is so much to do to get ready for this special celebration that we begin our preparations the week before. Traditional foods are purchased like "banh chung" (rice cakes), flowers are bought to decorate our homes (peach blossoms are especially popular) and red hanging scrolls (like those in the photo above) are hung up around our homes with wishes for good luck in the new year on them. Other popular items purchased for the celebration are candies, firecrackers and red envelopes to “li-xi” (give money) to children. You will see a lot of red in our decorations. Red is symbolic of good luck.
If you want to shop for flowers, "Phuoc Loc Tho The" Mall in Westminster is the best place to go. It is a very busy place and the best time to go is the Friday before the New Year. If you wait until the weekend, it is too busy and very, very crowded. The flower market is full of all kinds of flowers, like orchids and branches of peach trees loaded with blossoms, and there are kumquat trees and bonsai. It is so colorful and beautiful and the scent of all those flowers is so beautiful and wonderful that I very much enjoy going there and look forward to it every year!
So, let’s see, we’ve got the flowers to decorate our homes . . . now we need to get some food for our celebrations. We love our fruit and eat a lot of it. Here you can see some of the traditional fruits we eat, dragon fruit, kumquats, papaya, pears and tangerines. Yum, yum! Let's stock up!
So, now that you have your flowers and some food for the Tet, it is time for you to come along with me to the Tet Festival to see what they have there! So, grab your hat and let’s go!
Saturday, my husband, my two sons and I went to the Tet Festival at Bolsa Grande High School, and we had a wonderful and very fun day! The festival is an important way for our Vietnamese youth to learn more about their heritage and to be proud of their Vietnamese ancestors and homeland. It is actually their job to build all the displays for the festival depicting the traditional homes and traditional ways of Vietnamese life. They learn about these things by talking to their their parents and grandparents about them so they can figure out how to put it all together.
The tickets were $5, or free if you were “ao dai”, a serviceman in uniform. I saw some American ladies “ao dai” and I thought they looked so cute in their uniforms!
I would also like to mention that all the money collected in ticket sales is used to pay for the materials needed to build the displays. Any money collected in excess of that amount is divided up. Some is put away for the next year's festival and the rest is put back into the community. Some may go to scholarships for children whose families do not have enough money to put them through school. Some may go to organizations who help support those in our community who need help. All of the money is accounted for and the totals are published in our local Vietnamese newspaper so everyone knows how much was collected and used and what the excess was used for. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it really helps to support and strengthen our community.
Wow, there were so very many people at the festival! There was a lot to see: flowers, plants, foods, displays and a parade, and so much to do: shopping, playing traditional games, listening to music and watching the stage shows, and so much more!
They had created some vignettes of traditional scenes found around the Vietnamese countryside. There was a little “nha la”, or cottage, which is typical of a small home you would find in the country, with a thatched roof made from palm fronds. Here I am posing inside the house. Notice the red scrolls of good luck on the wall behind me! The week before the festival, my son and his friends collected all the palm tree leaves to make the house. He showed me his arm and there were a lot of cuts on it from the sharp leaves. My poor son! He gave his blood for the Tet! But the house was really cute and they created a very good example of a typical country home, so I think it was worth it!
This is a re-creation of a "ghe cau", or fishing canoe. You can see it behind me in the photo above. Notice the thatched roof over it to keep off the sun and rain! This is a small personal canoe, which is used for transportation or fishing on the waterways. And it is also used as a market when it is docked. People walk up to the boats on the dock to buy the products; fish, fruit, meat, whatever the vendor is selling.
Since fishing is a big part of Vietnamese life, there was also a small display showing a typical fishing net, and how it is used for catching all those fish. And below is a photo of a duck pen. Many people keep ducks in pens like this for their eggs as well as for making dishes with duck.
Speaking of water, sometimes you don’t want to float on it, but you do need to cross it. That is where the "cau khi", or Monkey Bridge, comes in handy. This is a tree trunk or a very narrow piece of wood that spans the creek or river with rope on either side that you can try to use to keep your balance while crossing.
Would you want to try to cross this bridge? If this were a bridge in Vietnam, there would be water running underneath it instead of grass as shown here! It is extremely narrow and can be very difficult to walk across, even with the ropes on the sides to hold onto (See the blue rope on either side of the bridge? You still need very good balance, those ropes are not completely stationary!). If you cannot walk across it standing upright, you can try to cross it by pretending you are a monkey and bending down to use your hands and your feet trying to cross it that way, hence the name, Monkey Bridge.
There was also a reconstruction of a "mieu", or shrine to memorialize and honor the heroes and brave people who made sacrifices and great contributions to the country. You can see it in the photo above behind the dragons. The shrine is a raised platform, supported by a strong central support, upon which offerings are placed. People come to the shrine to pray for those heroes.
The game room was a very popular place, especially with my husband. Vietnamese chess was being played and my husband stayed there much longer than he did anywhere else at the festival! That is him in sunglasses in the center of the photo behind the people playing chess.
Here I am demonstrating how street vendors get their product to market. Villagers make food in their homes to sell in the streets and transport it in baskets hung from a pole they carry over their shoulders. Sometimes, if the woman has a baby she has to take care of, the baby will be placed in the back basket and sits very still and holds onto the ropes, while the front basket is filled with the food that is to be sold and off they go to sell their food to make their living. As you can guess, these baskets can get very heavy.
Speaking of food. Somehow we managed to find time to eat lunch in between all these activities. This is how a typical sidewalk café table would look. Notice how close to the ground everything is compared with what you would find in the United States and Europe. The food was really very good. My son especially loved the sugar cane juice!
On the stage there were several events, there was singing of new year songs and music and my personal favorite, the performance of the Royal Family, with the king, queen, prince and princess, and the armies with their red and blue uniforms.
There were also many beautiful girls wearing the traditional dress representing the three areas of Vietnam: the northern, central and southern parts of the country.
One of my sons participated in the festival, dressed as one of members of the royal family. Here, he is wearing a blue dress. I was so excited to see a photo of him, dressed in one of these costumes, was just published in the local Vietnamese paper!
The festival is so important to our culture, the local Vietnamese TV station sent one of their reporters to interview some of the performers as well as some of the people who attended for their news show.
Well, anyway, we had a really, really great time and I enjoyed it very much! Maybe next year you can join me at the festival!
Ok, I think that is all for now! I hope you enjoyed going on this adventure with me! See you next year! And I wish you and your family a year of good luck! Bye bye!