Several hundred Vietnamese, many dressed in traditional robes and visiting from Atlanta and other places, gathered Sunday at First Baptist Church in Gainesville to usher in the Year of the Tiger.
They kicked off the New Year celebration, Tet Nguyen Dan, marking the arrival of spring based on the lunar calendar, with the festive dragon dance.
Two teams of dancers from Snellville, wearing the costume of a menacing dragon, snaked through the crowd in the church’s banquet hall to the stage. Spectators threw firecrackers at them to symbolize the chasing away of evil spirits.
And then revelers lined up at buffet-style tables and filled plates with Vietnamese dishes, including the holiday favorite, sticky rice.
The event also featured entertainment, such as singing and dancing, and the recognition of the oldest family members.
“It’s very important that we try to keep the culture and pass it down to (the next) generation, to our children,” said Duong Vo, 39, of Gainesville.
Vo, a Vietnamese native who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years, said the thing he enjoys most about the New Year celebrations is the atmosphere.
“You gather together (and) see friends. Once a year, we can meet each other,” he said. “This is a good time to (visit with) people (who are from) out of town.”
The church on Green Street has sponsored the celebration for all the 16 years that the Rev. Joe Tu has served there as Vietnamese minister.
His favorite part of the event is that it serves as “an opportunity to bring out the Gospel to them.”
“The Vietnamese are very godly people. Everything in life — they refer to God,” Tu said. “But here’s the problem: They don’t worship God. They worship the idols ... and Buddha.
“They are raised in the tradition of Buddha doctrine and teaching, so they don’t really know anything about the teachings of God.”
He said he talks to New Year revelers about the four seasons, depicted in a drawing across a sheet serving as a stage background, and that God created them.
“One thing about Vietnamese is that they believe this nation was blessed by God. They see the money (with the inscription of) ‘In God We Trust’ and then the Pledge of Allegiance (with the reference to God),” he said.
Anh Bui, 18, of Gainesville, said the New Year festival exposes children born and raised in the U.S. to the culture of their ancestors.
“It’s a different view for them, because they are used to the American style (of things), she said.
It’s also a time of “families to get together and have fun together,” Bui said.