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Tet and Lunar New Year Festivals Illuminate Orange County in the Year of the Wood Dragon

Updated: Feb 8

A roundup of events for the Tet and Lunar New Year festivities in Orange County.

A depiction of a traditional Vietnamese spring wedding complete with bride and groom will be held at the 42nd Annual UVSA Tet Festival at the OC Fairgrounds Sunday. Photo courtesy of UVSA
 

The Lunar New Year, also known as Tet in Vietnamese culture, is a time for families and communities to come together to reflect on the past year and look forward to new beginnings. The festivities typically span several days, with each day holding special significance.

Falling on Saturday this year, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities will gather to share meals and honor their ancestors. Traditional dishes like banh chung (sticky rice cake) and spring rolls are common lucky foods.

Elders often give red envelopes containing money, known as li xi, to younger family members and friends. The color red is associated with luck and prosperity, making these gifts symbolic of good wishes for the coming year.

Other traditions and superstitions include sweeping and cleaning your house the day before. On the day of the new year, everyone wears new clothes, and avoids bathing or cutting their hair so as not to wash away good luck.

In the Chinese zodiac, each year is associated with an animal sign and one of the five elements. 2024 marks the Year of the Wood Dragon, combining the fiery traits of the dragon with the nurturing qualities of the wood element. People born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to be ambitious, charismatic and full of energy, while wood adds a sense of growth and renewal.


Attendees of the OC Tet Festival at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley in 2022. Photo by Richard Chang, Culture OC
 
OC Tet Festival at Mile Square Park, Fountain Valley

Tet is the single most significant holiday of the year for the Vietnamese community, according to Van Tran, chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do. The OC Tet Festival, one of the largest celebrations in the region, will be held at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. The free event will be held Friday through Sunday, with a grand opening ceremony at 3 p.m. Saturday. Over 40,000 participants are expected to attend. 

“It's like three holidays combined into one — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Tran said. “It has a spiritual and cultural component; it is a time of thanksgiving for the past year and a time of hope and inspiration for the new year to come.”

When: 5-10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb 10; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11

Where: Mile Square Park, 16801 Euclid St., Fountain Valley

Cost: Free with parking, reserve a spot here


Colorful lion and dragon dances are highlights of the celebration. The rhythmic beats of drums and cymbals, combined with energetic dance performances, are believed to bring good luck and chase away evil spirits. The accompanying firecrackers drive away old energy and usher in the new.

Dancers from Cal State Long Beach’s VSA (Vietnamese Students Association) will perform a traditional Vietnamese number, while Westminster’s La Quinta High School students head up the lion dance. 

Headline singers from the region will include Carol Kim, Ho Hoang Yen, Ngoc Linh, Quynh Thuy and Helena Ngoc Hong. There will also be a multicultural array of food booths ranging from Indonesian, Thai, American, Mexican and, of course, Vietnamese cuisines.

The county has sponsored the event for the ninth year in a row. The festivities arrive amid intense scrutiny of Supervisor Do for funneling county money toward his daughter's mental health care company, Warner Wellness. Do, who represents the First District, is a major sponsor and host of the OC Tet Festival.

The controversy may have caused some delay in announcing all the details of the festival, which Tran denies, saying that the Lunar New Year simply falls on a later date this year.

“We think the stories have been manufactured,” said Tran of the issue. “It’s a series of political moves against the supervisor without any substance.”

Tran is running for Do’s supervisor seat in the March primary elections. Do is vacating the seat this year due to term limits.   


Westminster Tet Parade

In the neighboring city of Westminster, home to Little Saigon, the community is gearing up for the famous Tet Parade on Saturday. The 10-square-mile city, with nearly 91,000 occupants, and surrounding towns are home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam.

Over 15,000 people are expected to attend, with many traveling from other parts of the country and even the world. The grandiose parade with a more than 20-year history will be livestreamed on PCTA (public access television), with a reach of about 250,000 viewers.

Little Saigon is a popular vacation destination with international allure, said Gina Nunes, community services and recreation supervisor of Westminster.

When: Opening ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m., Parade begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Westminster, Bolsa Avenue, eastbound from Magnolia Street to Bushard Street

Cost: Free; premiere seating available for purchase for $25


“It’s an opportunity for the entire city to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the culture, history and beliefs of the Vietnamese American community in Westminster and throughout Orange County,” Nunes said.

The theme of the parade is “spring and prosperity,” and it will feature ornate floats, marching bands, lion dances and traditional attire. There are over 80 participants this year, including the Garden Grove High School Marching Band and lion dancers from La Quinta High School.

The opening ceremony kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with lion dances and firecrackers. The procession commences at 9:30 a.m. at the intersection of Bolsa Avenue and Magnolia Street, and will head eastbound on Bolsa toward Bushard Street, then southbound, ending at Bishop Place.

Admission is free, but you can also purchase grandstand premium seating overseeing the main stage on Bolsa, between Weststate and Moran streets for $25.


Traditional ceremonies and processions are a part of the festivities at the O.C. Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy of UVSA
 
UVSA Tet Festival at the OC Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa

The UVSA Tet Festival is the largest event of its kind in the nation. Celebrating its 42nd year and its 10th year at the OC Fair and Event Center, festivities run from Friday to Sunday and showcases traditional Vietnamese food, culture and entertainment.

Founded in 1982, the nonprofit Union of Vietnamese Student Association raised funds to help refugees fleeing Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The first UVSA Tet Festivals began in parking lots and small parks, then were held in Garden Grove Park for a decade, and finally moved to the OC Fairgrounds in 2014 to accommodate the 200 staff members and 500 volunteers.

The event is completely student-run and requires over six months of preparation.

When: 4-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sunday

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Admission: $8, available for purchase day of at the main entrance


“It’s always been a home away from home,” said UVSA co-chair Annie Tram.  “If you were in Vietnam, the streets are littered with firecrackers and lanterns. So we wanted to bring a piece of that back here.”

The festival features its own cultural village, Làng Việt Nam, modeled after traditional villages in Vietnam. Visitors can enjoy the cultural exhibits, galleries and traditional architecture displayed within.

Admission is $8 per person. Once inside, visitors can dine on a variety of delicacies at 35 food booths (additional charge), shop from local vendors and even compete in pho eating contests, a children’s pageant or modern dance competitions. 

The raising of the bamboo ceremony kicks off the celebration at 5 p.m. Friday, while festivities continue with an ancestral altar procession at 2 p.m. Saturday. The spring wedding event at 12:15 p.m. Sunday completes the festival with lion dances, tea offerings to elders and a real roasted pig.

Also at the main stage at 5 p.m. Friday, 17 finalists will vie for the title of UVSA Miss Vietnam 2024. Students ranging from ages 17-24 previously competed in interview, speaking and talent portions. The winner will receive a $1,500 cash prize and be the face of the festival next year. UC Irvine student and Miss Vietnam 2023 Jolynna Dang will be doing her final walk and passing on the crown to the new queen.


Dancers perform with ribbons and lanterns as Pacific Symphony's music director Carl St.Clair leads the orchestra. Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony
 
Lunar New Year with Pacific Symphony at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

A colorful presentation of Eastern and Western music and dance ushers in the Lunar New Year Saturday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The Pacific Symphony will perform along with artists such as internationally acclaimed pipa player ​​Yu Liu, Vietnamese zither player Brian Bùi and pianist Fei-Fei Dong.

Dong, winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition and a top finalist at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, will perform as soloist in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.

The performance is touted as an immersive cultural experience highlighting Asian folk songs juxtaposed against modern compositions and timeless orchestral masterpieces.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 7 p.m.)

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets starting at $56, purchase here


Sponsor Charlie Zhang spearheaded the launch of the event seven years ago along with the collaboration of the Yaya Dance Academy as a way to honor Chinese traditions and the Lunar New Year Celebration, but the performance has now come to include Korean and Vietnamese cultural influences.

“Our mission at Pacific Symphony is to unite diverse communities through the power of music, inviting everyone in Orange County to partake in the rich tapestry of pan-Asian music and dance,” said conductor Carl St.Clair.

The vibrant 2.5-hour production with intermission also features performers from Wendy Hua’s Violin Studio at Orange County Music and Dance (OCMD), Armonia Singers, American Feel Young Chorus and Pacific Chorale.

Tet Lunar New Year Festival, Santa Ana

The city of Santa Ana hosted its inaugural Tết Lunar New Year Festival on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Centennial Park with the unveiling of a new Little Saigon monument on First Street near the intersection of Harbor Boulevard. The original sign was damaged 16 years ago in a car accident, and the city council voted to replace it with around $84,000 from the general fund last year.

Other Lunar New Year Festivities in Orange County

When: 1-10 p.m., Saturday

Where: SteelCraft Garden Grove, 12900 South Euclid St., Suite 150, Garden Grove

Cost: Free, but make a reservation on the Steelcraft website for a free entry to the festival’s raffle

When: Feb. 8-25

Where: South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa

Cost: Free


For a more comprehensive list, visit enjoyorangecounty.com


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