There’s a time of year that every Asian, young or old, waits for with uncontained excitement. It’s a time filled with festivals, flowers, fireworks and a lot of good food. It’s a time where friends and families gather from all over in reunion and pass out red envelopes filled with money for good fortune. This much-awaited time of year, my friends, is Lunar New Years.
As a Vietnamese woman growing up in Garden Grove, California, I can’t say I don’t look forward to Lunar New Years when it is coming up. Garden Grove, one of the most Vietnamese populated cities in the U.S., celebrates Lunar New Years with a literal bang that you can’t ignore. Every plaza is filled with street vendors selling flowers, toys, foods and other cultural goodies. Although traffic is horrible with the amount of tourists and visitors from out of state, I always look forward to joining everyone. Lunar New Years fell on February 10th this year and I welcomed in The Year of the Snake by attending the annual Tet Festival in Garden Grove Park.
The Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California (VAFSC) hosts the Tet Festival every year and greets you with many student and adult volunteers as soon you walk in. Admission is only $5 and that grants you access to world’s largest Tet Festival outside of Vietnam full of vendors, musical entertainment, cultural foods and so much more. Props recreate a village of Vietnam and volunteers dressed in cultural attire set the scene. Visitors are welcome to take pictures with the dressed up volunteers and interact with the props.
There were so many food vendors selling affordable cultural favorites. This was definitely an area that my friends and I circled back to many times throughout the night. (Quick hint to people that stay until closing at the festival, these vendors sell their food for half the price to get rid of them before they have to close shop, so make sure to come back one more time before leaving!) I got a bowl of congee for $2 before I left when it was suppose to be $5, needless to say… I was quite happy.
Along with food, the Tet Festival had carnival rides and games for an affordable price. Unfortunately, I didn’t go home with a stuffed animal that night.
As for entertainment, the Tet Festival had a huge stage set up for things such as the Miss Vietnam Beauty Pageant, musical performances, martial arts shows, talent shows and dance performances. UC Irvine’s very own Level 5 (pictured above) closed the night after America’s Best Dance Crew winners Poreotics performed.
Around 10 o’clock fireworks were shot off in the sky as an early welcome to the New Year, but that spectacle was nothing compared to what I was about to experience in a little over an hour. After the festival, I hurried over to the Chua Hue Quang, a temple on Westminster and Euclid, to join the thousands of people already there.
Fair warning to anyone that wants to visit this area of Garden Grove (or any area in Garden Grove) around this time of year, specifically New Years Eve, traffic and searching for parking is a stressful experience. Many people park far away and walk to the temple, many people park in the plazas near the temple; however, traffic is horrible because they block off the entire street in front of the temple. I was lucky to have found parking within half an hour of searching.
The temple was packed! People were squished together like sardines, everyone was trying to get their prayers in and their fortunes told, and others were trying to watch the concert and lion dance performance that was also going on.
A security guard stood careful watch over the firecrackers hanging from the temple roof in order to make sure no mischief went on. Anyone that steps over his perimeter gets a sharp scolding to move back. It was very intimidating…
However, the crowd can’t wait and like every year, around 11:15 P.M., people started setting off firecrackers in the closed-off street. People swung strings of firecrackers around and threw them on the street without a care as they joyously waited for midnight. Extremely loud bomb-like explosives were also set off that were both terrifying but so exhilarating to watch.
Unfortunately, the police wasn’t so happy with our celebration. They gave a valiant effort to control the situation and keep anyone from being hurt, but as you can see from the video, no one could stop the New Year’s celebration.
A thing about Lunar New Years and how the Vietnamese celebrate that most people need to realize is that we use a LOT of firecrackers. It started to lightly rain and we all got wet, but our mood was not dampened one bit. When midnight finally came around, all the firecrackers were brought out and confetti was thrown into the air—an even louder spectacle was about to begin. Keep in mind that we had already started setting explosives off since 11:15 P.M. and there was no break in noise since then. Here’s another video as just a snippet of how much was set off, pay attention to the gigantic roll of firecrackers!
By the end of the night, I was covered in shredded red paper, extremely dirty, and congested from the gunpowder. I wouldn’t expect any less though from over an hour of non-stop explosives. I was tired and drained by the end of the night, but I can’t wait for next year! Hopefully, you can come and join me in this wonderfully joyous event!