Celebrating the Lunar New Year with the 38th Annual Tết Festival

Happy Year of the Pig!

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to experience the UVSA Tết Festival at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. What is Tết? According to the event’s website, Tết is “the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. Tết celebrates the arrival of a new spring where families reunite, enjoy each other’s company, forget about the troubles of the previous year and look forward to a better upcoming year.”

The Tết Festival is actually one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations in the United States and got its start back in 1982. UVSA (or the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations) states that their goal for the Festival is to “create an avenue for everyone to have a better understanding of the Vietnamese culture in many ways: vibrant arrays of traditional food, traditional performance and entertainment, and cultural exhibitions”.

Although my friends and I were only at the event for a few hours during the evening of opening day (the downside to working on Saturdays), we can all agree that UVSA’s vision for their Festival was fantastically achieved! The Tết Festival was a delightful event of food, culture, and wonderful people from all over Southern California.

One of my favorite parts of the festival was all the food options! Not only were there Vietnamese food options but also Korean, Japanese, Brazilian, and East African (just to name a few). I was particularly excited for the booth that sold Taiyaki (a Japanese fish shaped pancake). I’ve usually found these desserts filled with sweet red beans, but the booth also sold them filled with cheese, custard, or Nutella. I was a big fan of the Nutella but wasn’t very thrilled with the custard.

Taiyaki with red beans (Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura)

I also enjoyed seeing so many people in bright colors! From what I understand, wearing black or white during the Lunar New Year is considered a faux pas as they are both colors traditionally worn during funerals. Instead, Tết participants are encouraged to wear bold, bright colors to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year. My wardrobe is 80% black so it was a bit difficult for me to find an appropriate outfit, but I managed with a baby blue top and blue jeans.

A young lady in beautiful traditional garb posing with a dancing dragon.

A highlight of the Festival was meeting Arut Tantasirin, an animator and artist responsible for creating the cutest bird with major attitude: Warbie! As soon as I saw the drawing of Warbie I knew I had to have it for my art collection. Even better was getting to meet the artist himself, who kindly personalized the back of my canvas with another drawing and his signature. Check out his artwork, award winning animated movie, and the world of WarbieYama here.

Artist Arut Tantasirin drawing me a cute little Warbie!

Thank you, Arut!

Shout out to the UVSA for organizing such a wonderful event! I feel so lucky to live in such a diverse community because it means I get to experience these beautiful cultural events. I can’t wait to check it out again next year!

Did you celebrate the Lunar New Year? Feel free to comment with your favorite traditions below – I’d love to hear more about them!

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