Most people have put away their fireworks and noise makers as soon as January 1st rolls around, having fully celebrated New Year’s as the clock struck midnight. But our family celebrates a second time near the end of January or February with the arrival of the Lunar New Year.
My husband is Vietnamese, a culture we are proud to raise our children in. Every year, we gather with his family to ring in the Lunar New Year, called Tết. We celebrated a week early, but the actual holiday falls on February 12th this year.
Chúc mừng năm mới!
Each year, my two boys don a special outfit, called an áo dài, and join their cousins in wishing the eldest members of the family a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.
We show respect to my husband’s parents by presenting them with gifts of fruit while my husband recites the New Year’s greeting. I help my oldest son pronounce the shortened phrase: Chúc mừng năm mới! Happy New Year!
In return, we received lì xì, lucky red envelopes with money, usually crisp new two dollar bills. We also give lì xì to our nieces and nephews as they wish us a happy New Year– tradition states that anyone younger than you can receive lì xì.
Normally, we would celebrate at the large Tết festival at Mary, Queen of Vietnam Parish in New Orleans East– every Vietnamese church or Buddhist temple holds a special service in honor of the holiday. We also usually eat at Phở Orchid in Metairie and watch their dragon dance and fire cracker display. Although these annual events have been cancelled due to COVID, I look forward to resuming our usual traditions next year!
Instead, we spent a full day celebrating at my in-laws’ home. We ate áp chảo, where beef and shrimp are sautéed in butter with onions on a hot plate right at the table and then rolled in rice paper with bún (vermicelli noodles), lettuce, and other vegetables. I lovingly refer to them as “Vietnamese burritos.” The rolls are dipped in a sweet garlic, lime, shredded carrot, and fish sauce called nước chấm.
My in-laws also enjoyed a traditional New Year food called bánh tét— a simple roll filled with sweet rice, mung bean paste, and pork belly wrapped in banana leaves that they eat with pickled radishes and papaya.
Following our afternoon of food, we played a game called “Bầu cua tôm cá,” which you can normally find variations of at the usual Tết festival. The game uses a poster with six pictures on it– a crab, a shrimp, a fish, a gourd, a deer, and a rooster– and has three dice with matching images. The kids put quarters on the images they were “betting on” and then waited for the dice to be rolled. If the image on the dice matched their chosen image on the poster, they won!
Most importantly, though, we enjoyed spending the time with our family and being with our loved ones. Between the food, games, beautiful weather, and family time, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in Tết!
How can you celebrate Tết at home?
Wear red, generally considered a lucky color, to ring in the New Year!
Learn about this year’s animal, the ox. People born in the year of the ox are considered to be strong, diligent, dependable, and determined. A quick Google search can show you what your own Zodiac animal is.
Make little red envelopes and hand out lì xì to your kids or anyone younger than you.
Support Vietnamese businesses. If you’re a fan of their king cakes, you probably know Dong Phuong has a bakery, but they also have a restaurant. We especially love Phở Orchid in Metairie and August Moon on the West Bank.
From our family to yours, we wish you a truly happy New Year! Chúc mừng năm mới!