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Vietnamese Celebrate Tet at Washington-Lee High School

Arlington’s Vietnamese community wishes for luck in the coming New Year.

Arlington's Vietnamese community celebrated Tet, the holiday marking the beginning of the New Year for many Asian cultures, Sunday, in a festival at Washington-Lee High School. The blue, gold and red fabrics of the celebration's traditional attire colored the crowd as visitors perused displays of Vietnamese crafts. It was also a chance to sample Vietnamese cuisine and music.

“The Vietnamese are such a significant part of our community,” said attendee Allison Bates. “It's a wonder to see something like this right here in Arlington. It's so vibrant.”

According to Arlington resident John Hua, Tet is a time when Vietnamese families honor their ancestors and wish for luck in the coming year. Children receive gifts of money during the celebration in red envelopes called “li xi.” Luck, for some, comes in the form of traditional plants placed in the home. Bamboo, said merchant Loan Tran, is a symbol for luck.

“It's often a gift to bring luck to a family,” Tran said. “That plays in with the New Year and wishing people luck in the future.”

Part of the Vietnamese tradition of Tet, Hua said, centers around the Tao Quan, the Three Kitchen Gods, believed to be present in the kitchen of every home. These gods observe everything that takes place there and, at the end of the lunar year, they depart to make a report on household events to heaven.

Citrus trees and decorative li xi trees, where children's gifts are placed, draped in gold ornaments, could also be seen.

THE HOLIDAY FOLLOWS a lunar calendar, falling on a different day each solar year. The Year 2005, according to the calendar, is the Year of the Rooster. Food is an integral part of the festivities.

Among the traditional treats of Tet are a kind of flavored rice cake called “bahn chung,” according to merchant Pauline Thai, along with pickled vegetables and pink-and-white candies made from coconut.

“The food isn't like anything I've tried before,” said Colleen Porter over a bowl of vegetables and spiced chicken. “It's hot and it's sweet. It's interesting, not the kind of flavors you find in other food. It's different.”