story by Dave Choo
photo by Ann Cecil
The old saying, “getting off to a clean start,” is never truer than during preparations for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Tet, short for Tet Nguyen Dan (“feast of the first morning”), is the first and most important holiday in Vietnam. Held on the same day as Chinese New Year (Feb. 7 this year), Tet shares many of its customs: Families clean and paint their homes, pay their debts, resolve disagreements, get their hair cut and buy new clothes. Tet is a time to visit with family and pay respects at the graves of ancestors, forgetting about past disappointments and hoping for a better year to come.
But Tet isn’t a somber affair. The three-day holiday is about socializing, gift-giving and eating—a lot of eating. Vietnamese families will spend days preparing food that symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. On the menu: thit kho, a hearty pork stew with boiled eggs; cau dua du xoai, a collection of fruits such as mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut and soursop; and the Tet essentials: banh chung and banh day, meat- or bean-filled rice wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for more than a day.
O‘ahu’s Vietnamese community commemorates Tet with two events. The first is the 2008 Tet Celebration, a dinner sponsored by the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. The sit-down dinner for nearly 200 is open to the public and, besides great food, features music, singing and a raffle. The second is the 30th annual Vietnamese New Year’s Festival held at Kapi‘olani Park on Feb. 3, the weekend before the holiday. The all-day event, featuring cultural demonstrations, carnival games, live entertainment, and, of course, plenty of food, usually attracts a crowd of between 4,000 and 5,000.
“America is my home now, and Tet helps me remember where I grew up and where I have been,” says Tong Ma, one of the Vietnamese New Year’s Festival planners. “But the festival isn’t just about memories; it’s about today.” HH
2008 Tet Celebration, Ka Ikena Dining Room, Kapi‘olani Community College. Call for time and date, (808) 545-1889
Vietnamese New Year’s Celebration, 1/25,Kapi‘olani Park, (808) 389-4126