Let’s Celebrate! Happy Lunar New Year!

Chúc mừng năm mới!

That’s Happy New Year in Vietnamese! We call the holiday Tết

In honor of the Lunar New Year, I decided to take a self portrait in my ao dai or a traditional Vietnamese dress. The last time I wore an ao dai was on my wedding day.

My parents immigrated their family from Vietnam. I was born shortly before they immigrated so I guess that makes me a first generation immigrant. I grew up in Albuquerque, NM with my brothers until I was in high school. There wasn’t a big Vietnamese community so the celebrations were limited to the church celebrations. I remember the dragon dances and the red envelopes! I would look forward to the holiday each year because it was the one time I was gifted money in the red envelopes. Of course, my mom would make us save the money but we were able to spend on few fun things.

My parents would always talk about the festivals they experienced when they live in Vietnam. I want to experience that in person one day. When we moved to New Orleans, which has a large Vietnamese community, the Lunar New Year festivals were the first time I felt fully immersed in the Vietnamese Tết celebration with food vendors, dances and concerts.

The Lunar New Year celebrations in Chicago feel a bit different than what I experienced in New Orleans. Maybe because lunar new year falls on the coldest time of the year here which makes outdoor festivals a little unbearable. There are parades here both in Chinatown and on Argyle (where the Vietnamese community is) but I just now realized I need to get more involved in the Asian American communities here in Chicago!

But growing up, Tết celebrations are mainly celebrated at home. Some things I want to start to do with the boys as they get older is making our lunar new year celebrations at home bigger.

Here are a few fun things Vietnamese facts and celebratory traditions we did as a family:

  • According to my mom, everyone turns a year older on Tết, meaning it’s also your birthday.
  • Our house needs to be clean on Tết, which means you spend your time on the days leading up to holiday cleaning. No sweeping on the day as it means you’re sweeping your luck away.
  • Kids greet elders with a good wishes for the new year in order to receive the red envelopes filled with some amount of cash. I used to do this all the way up to college until I was told I was too old. But it doesn’t hurt to try. As an adult now, it’s actually fun to give away the red envelopes.
  • We eat Bánh chưng or sticky rice cake, wrapped in banana leaves. It’s a traditional Vietnamese rice cake made from gelatinous rice, mung beans and pork. My mom usually fries it on the pan and I loved eating the crispy parts.
  • A simple faux blossom plant is used as decoration.
  • We gamble! Yes gamble with the game of bầu cua tôm cá or gourd-crab-shrimp-fish. It can get really competitive as some of us may lose all our red envelope money over this game.

I hope to keep the traditions alive for my kids to experience and enjoy.

I believe my heritage is very important not only to my kids to respect but also for those around me to respect as well. I want to bring awareness to my heritage as part of my social media presence. In doing so, I can’t finish this blog post without mentioning the hate crimes against Asian Americans, especially the elderly. As an immigrant child growing up in America, I have lost count of how many times I’ve experienced racism from other kids and adults. But that is small compared what is happening now, especially to the elderly who are easy targets of these hate crimes related to people’s ignorance about Covid-19 and blaming the Asian community for it. Some people are physically injured and some have ended in death. These hate crimes need to end and I hope you join me in bringing more awareness to this issue and helping to end it. Thank you Amanda Nguyen for first amplifying this issue on her social media.

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