The annual Vietnamese TET Lunar New Year’s Celebration will take place in New Orleans at three different Catholic parishes in January and February. 2017 is the “Year of the Rooster.”
The first celebration kicks off Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph Church in Algiers, where several thousand visit over three days.
“For the first time, St. Joseph Church will have live local Vietnamese artists,” said Van Pham, parish pastoral council president and past president of the Vietnamese-American Association of Louisiana. “Also on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, students in our Bible school will perform the Lion Dance.”
On Saturday, following the 4:30 p.m. Vigil Mass, the national anthems of Vietnam and the United States will be sung in English and Vietnamese, and pastor Father Joseph Thang Dinh Tran will bestow a New Year blessing, Pham said.
The annual celebration is made possible through the efforts of the entire parish starting around November each year.
“All church members – eucharistic minsters, lectors and different church organizations make the food,” he said. “Local choir members work in the kitchen and food booths. We don’t have any outside food vendors. The food is 100-percent made by church members. Even some of the vegetables are grown in our backyard, and seafood caught by our members is donated or discounted for us to use.”
Pham estimates that 2,500 pounds of Vietnamese shish kabobs are prepared annually.
“The seniors come to the church hall and separate the fat and meat from the pork and marinate them and put them on a stick. We probably have several thousand sticks in the freezer, and on fair days we barbecue them. We roll by hand 2,500 egg rolls.”
Banh Mi po-boys are also a big draw. Pham estimates that several thousand loaves of French bread are ordered from the Vietnamese bakery on Chef Menteur Highway just for the festival. A delicacy at the festival is a pure sugar cane drink. Pham said 200 bundles of sugar cane are obtained from Houston, then parishioners clean the cane to make the drinks during fair hours.
Pham said since Vietnamese Catholics don’t celebrate many holidays – the Vietnamese New Year’s celebration is the most sacred.
“Since many Vietnamese are farmers, I think it’s the most important for us,” he said. “This time of year in Vietnam is the season when the harvesting of rice is finished, and people are celebrating the rice they have grown the whole year.”
He said it’s essential to continue this celebration to pass on the Vietnamese traditions to the next generation, so they understand the culture. Many of the rituals of the New Year in Vietnam are recreated at the festival such as the children bringing gifts to the elders.
“During the New Year, in our culture, the children bring gifts to the elders and wish them longevity, and, in return, the elders give them the red lucky bag with money. We want to pay respect for our elders and remember them.”
St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church in Marrero will have its celebration Jan. 20-22.
Parish Council member Michael Dang said something different is added every year. For 2017, it will be a flag ceremony by Vietnamese military veterans, Vietnamese traditional ritual ceremony, a “dragon” dance and karaoke music.
New festival food will include chargrilled oysters, chargrilled beef on a stick, Banh Mi Pho, Vietnamese soul food from local restaurant chefs and traditional foods made by parishioners.
While admission is free, proceeds from food sales and games at the festival go to the church, Dang said.
Father Peter Tran, pastor, will offer a blessing for the new year at the opening ceremonies Jan. 22 at 11 a.m.
New Orleans East
The largest of the celebrations each year happens at Mary Queen of Vietnam in eastern New Orleans off Michoud Boulevard.
Event spokesman Kevin Nguyen said more variety of food will be sold this year. Look for traditional egg rolls, Vietnamese pho noodles, spring rolls and fried rice, but also the seafood tent – a hit especially with the those of non-Vietnamese descent – with boiled crawfish, grilled oysters, fried fish and shrimp.
Mary Queen of Vietnam’s opening ceremony is Friday, Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m. followed by dragon dance and fireworks.
Nguyen said an average of 5,000 to 7,000 people visit the festival on Friday night; 10,000 on Saturday when English-singing bands perform from 1-5 p.m.; and an equal number on Sunday.
“I’ve seen the American crowd grow each year,” he said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at .
VIETNAMESE NEW YEAR ‘TET’ FESTIVAL IN NEW ORLEANS
‘YEAR OF THE ROOSTER’
► Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., 6-10 p.m.; Jan. 14-15, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. St. Joseph Church, 6450 Kathy St., Algiers. (Parking on Woodland Highway under the Intracoastal Canal Bridge going to English Turn.) 266-2386.
► Jan. 20, 6-10:30 p.m.; Jan. 21, noon-10:30 p.m., and Jan. 22, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church, 6851 St. Le Thi Thanh (Eighth Street), Marrero. This Catholic parish will celebrate the Vietnamese New Year with Masses on Jan. 22 at 8 and 10 a.m.; opening ceremonies will be at 11 a.m. Parking is available on the church grounds and an empty lot adjacent to the church. 347-4725.
►Feb. 10, 6-11 p.m.; Feb. 11, 10 a.m.-11 p.m., and Feb. 12, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mary Queen of Vietnam, 14001 Dwyer Blvd., New Orleans. Opening ceremony Friday, Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m. Among bands: Weathered Band will perform Feb. 11, 1-5 p.m.; Groovy 7 Band, Feb. 12 from 1-5 p.m. Parking on and off church grounds. 317-4595.
Free admission at all locations. Food is sold, and there are dragon dances and live Vietnamese music.