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300 people attended Vietnamese New Year celebration
Event featured food, music, dragon dance
Presidance performs for visitors to First Baptist Church’s Tet Nguyen Dan celebration Sunday afternoon in the church’s fellowship hall.

Their legs flew all over the stage as the four young men danced to the taped music, a mixture of dance tunes. A couple of them broke into a Christian rap song.

The Rev. Joe Tu, Vietnamese minister at First Baptist Church on Green Street, joined them on the Fellowship Hall stage after the performance and joked that he had tried similar moves of his own and, after 10 seconds, “I fell apart.”

The group’s performance, greeted by screams and cheers from the audience at Sunday’s celebration of Vietnamese New Year is a departure from other, more traditional events.

“It’s a little more informal and people are not as uptight,” said Chinh Ngo, 24. “... This is a little more Americanized.”

Not that the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet Nguyen Dan, is without its customs.

The event, in its 15th year at First Baptist and drawing some 300 people this year, also features traditional food, notably, the rice cake, and the dragon dance and recognition of the oldest family members.

The dragon dance represents ushering in good luck for the New Year. Traditionally, it is “celebrated with a lot of noises, like drums and firecrackers, to chase away the demons and evil spirits,” Tu said.

Tet Nguyen Dan marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar and the beginning of spring.

Tu said the church’s ministry tries to reach out to the Vietnamese community, without regard to religious background.

“In this event, people pretty much donate everything, (such as) food and money, so we can put the program together,” Tu said. “They can come here to celebrate without any hesitation that somebody will use the event to impose certain (beliefs).”

Amy Bui, 20, of Gainesville said she enjoyed the event because “it’s bringing back the old culture, and it’s also good for the young generations to learn more about (traditions).”

Bui attended the celebration with her two sisters, Anh, 17, and Annie, 8. The older sisters said that Annie particularly enjoyed the dragon dance, getting money and wearing the traditional “ao dai,” a long, flowing and colorful silk dress.

David Tran, 16, a sophomore at Gainesville High and a singer at the event, said the celebration becomes even more fun when you participate.

“It makes you feel at home,” he said.

Ngo said the celebration has a family atmosphere.

“It’s more enjoyable that way,” he said. “Events like this have the most laughs.”