Four dragons dancing, fireworks and the aroma of delicious cuisine highlighted the kick off of the Vietnamese New Year Jan. 27 at Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish in New Orleans East.
Parish council president Quy Nguyen wished the thousand or so people gathered the happiness, prosperity and longevity of the new year – the year of the dragon, a noble, powerful and lucky sign of the Chinese zodiac.
Several politicians, including Lucas Diaz, representative for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, credited the Vietnamese for their day-to-day diligence and hard work in making their community a successful and sustainable one.
“Without you, we wouldn’t be as rich as we are,” Diaz said about their contributions to the city of New Orleans. “Without you, we wouldn’t be as joyous as we are. Without you we wouldn’t be a strong as we are.”
“You have been witness to what our forefathers founded this country on,” New Orleans Councilwoman President Jackie Clarkson said. “You stand for God, family, country and community. Never lose that vision.”
Several in the audience held incense as the Vietnamese and American anthems were sung, and then proceeded to the stage to light candles to the sound of a gong to honor their ancestors.
“This is a happy atmosphere that the new year has arrived at Mary Queen of Vietnam,” its pastor Father Nghiem Van Nguyen said. “This marks the first day of the spring season and is a sign of the beginning of new things … The Vietnamese people believe that the new year brings renewal from our internal and spiritual self to the world around us,”
He wished everyone a year filled with prosperity and grace and said a prayer that everyone be blessed in 2012 – “May the new year of the dragon be filled with peace, good health, prosperity and happiness.”
Traditional games of chance stood beside children playing games such as fish, and there was even a booth of Catholic religious statues made by a nun. Live music was performed throughout.
Long-time attendee Stephanie Dao said the tradition of celebrating the Vietnamese New Year – Tet Nguyen Dan commonly known as Tet – at Mary Queen of Vietnam is a long one, established in the early days when the Vietnamese settled in the Village de l’Est subdivision in New Orleans East in the mid- 1970s.
“It’s getting bigger every year,” she said. “It’s like Jazz Fest.
Americans love it.”
Father Nguyen said the entire parish led by the parish council and festival committee works together to make the three-day festival possible. The New Year celebration unites the New Orleans Vietnamese community with Vietnamese worldwide, he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or Baptist,” Father Nguyen said. “This really is the biggest celebration we have every year for the Vietnamese people.”
Loan Tran, 24, brought her daughter, Gaby Nguyen, 5, to the celebration. She said it’s the tradition and the food that brings her to the celebration every year even though she no longer lives in the parish.
“I believe everything new happens in the new year,” Tran said.