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Vietnamese community wishes for blessing, success, life in new year
Duong Vo, chairman of the Vietnamese New Year Festival, speaks Sunday at the Vietnamese New Year Celebration at the Georgia Mountains Center. He is framed by a tree bearing yellow flowers that are said to bring good luck in the new year. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan
More than 150 people gathered at the Georgia Mountains Center arena Sunday afternoon to ring in the Vietnamese New Year with firecrackers, dragon dances and live music.

The Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet Nguyen Dan, marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar and the beginning of spring.

Tet is celebrated on the first night of the first moon after the sun enters Aquarius, typically in late January or early February.

"In Vietnam, February is the spring season," said Duong Vo, chairman of the Vietnamese New Year Festival. "And we celebrate the new year by eating sticky rice and fruit, and we have art performers and child’s games. The dragon dance scares bad luck away and brings good luck to the house," he added.

Vo said members of the growing Vietnamese community in Gainesville have celebrated the new year with a festival since 1994, and local Vietnamese residents of all ages attend the festival to watch singers and dancers perform and to visit with friends and family.

"We try to make the Vietnamese community stronger by having things like this. I think this is a good chance for all the Vietnamese people to come together," Vo said.

Nhung Mai, 23, said the Vietnamese New Year Festival appeals to young children as well as adults. Mai said she enjoys celebrating the customs of the major Vietnamese holiday with other Vietnamese families living in Gainesville.

"It’s very hard for us to get together, so it’s nice," Mai said. "Once a year, we get together and dance and eat and play music."

Mai explained that Tet celebrates everyone’s birthday, since the Vietnamese traditionally do not acknowledge the exact date of an individual’s birth. Mai said she marks her age in years according to the first day of the New year, although she was born in October.

Mai said her favorite Vietnamese New Year custom is the gift of "lucky money," which friends and family give in red envelopes to congratulate children on becoming a year older.

"I still ask my brother and my parents for lucky money, even though I’m kind of older and it’s for little kids," Mai said.

Vo said that, traditionally, Tet is celebrated for three full days. Each day is designated for different visits with family and friends. The first day is reserved for family visits, and in the Vietnamese culture, the first visitor of the new year must be rich, prestigious or happy in order for the family to have good fortune in the upcoming year.

The second day invites visits from close friends, while teachers and business associates are invited for visits the third day.

Heather Harper, a freshman at Brenau University, attended the Vietnamese New Year Festival Sunday, which is similar to Chinese New Year celebrations, in preparation for her monthlong trip to China in May with nine other Brenau students.

"My professor told me it would be a lot like the Chinese culture’s new year," Harper said. "I learned why they have the traditions they do ... and I learned how the new year is everybody’s birthday."

Vo said that although the Vietnamese New Year Festival took place Sunday, Tet actually takes place on Thursday.

He said the Vietnamese wish for three main things at the dawn of each new year — "phuoc, loc, tho" or blessing, success and long life.

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