Louisiana has more than 300 festivals each year. With its growing Vietnamese-American population, most particularly in the New Orleans area, the state just added another festival to celebrate: Tết or the Vietnamese New Year.
Tết is a short term for Tết Nguyên Đán, which means the first day of the spring in the lunar calendar. This is why it is often dubbed as the "Spring Festival."
In Vietnam, Tết is a national holiday. All of the banks, private and government offices are closed for three days. As the biggest event of the year, it takes months for the country to prepare for a celebration that could last as long as two weeks.
This year, however, majority of the Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans celebrated Tết for four succeeding weekends. On Jan. 30 and 31, the first Tết celebration took place at St. Joseph Mission Church in Algiers, New Orleans. Many people came for the authentic Vietnamese food.
Then, on Feb. 6 and 7, a much bigger celebration continued at the St. Agnes Lê Thị Thành's Church in Marrero, La. With hundreds of people who wanted to witness the WHO DAT Saints' Superbowl XLIV, two large TV screens were set up so they can both the Vietnamese New Year festival and the Superbowl.
But because of the Mardi Gras parade around the New Orleans metropolitan area, the Tết celebration was suspended on the weekend of Feb. 13 and 14, and the festivities resumed on Feb. 20 and 21 at Bồ Đề Temple — the first Vietnamese Buddist temple in New Orleans. At the stroke of midnight of February 13, a special ceremony, known as Giao Thừa (the New Year's Eve), was held. Many Vietnamese, both Buddhists and Catholics, prayed for their ancestors.
The last leg of Tết festival took place at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. Thousands of people came to enjoy the food and music — and welcomed with enthusiasm the Year of the Tiger.
John Hoa Nguyen is publisher of Ngoc Lan Thoi Bao.
Photo of Chua Bo De Vietnamese Buddhist Temple courtesy of Timothy C. Cahill, Loyola University.