Du Xuan Pham wishes to extend a Happy New Year to everyone in Campbell River. This is a special time of the year for Pham, his family and friends in the local Vietnamese community. Today is New Year’s Day – Tet in Vietnamese – as it is for Asian nationalities that traditionally follow the lunar calendar, like Chinese, Korean, and others.
It’s most widely known as the Chinese New Year which is the cultural root of the event going back thousands of years but it has its variations in the other nations. It is also called the Lunar New Year and it is known by the corresponding animal of the Chinese zodiac – 2014 is the Year of the Horse.
Traditionally it’s a period of feasting, celebration and paying tribute to ancestors and deities.
Sitting in the Immigrant Welcome Centre office at Robron Centre, Pham smiles while explaining in Vietnamese the significance of the event. It is a time for family.
“Our family, we prep a big dinner and when we’re done, I will say a prayer to the ancestors,” Pham says through his daughter Quyen who is translating.
Tet is a three-day celebration that involves many customs such as feasting, ancestor worshipping, visiting of friends and relatives, wishing them good luck and giving envelopes with money in them to children and the elderly.
“When it is coming to the 1st, it is New Year and you go to each other’s house and give all the kids an envelope (with money) for luck,” says Pham.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated by many Campbell Riverites with Asian heritages. And they want to welcome the whole community in celebrating the event too.
In Campbell River, the Phams have continued their traditions with their family and close friends.
In their home countries, it is a huge festival that fosters a spirited air of excitement.
“Everybody is into it,” Pham says.
Schools are closed and businesses shut down. It’s the largest celebration of the year.
Cities, towns and villages in Vietnam will pull out all the stops and decorate the streets.
There is a deep and complicated spirituality behind the festivities that involves remembering ancestors as well as thanking spirits or deities. Prayers are said to ancestors and gifts of clothing, food and money are placed before a family shrine. It’s a chance to say thank-you for watching over the family and bringing them good luck during the year. And it even, perhaps, ensures they will continue to bring that good luck over the next year.
Gifts of new clothes are also given to children. Pham remembers the excitement surrounding this part of the celebration.
The significance is underscored when he points out that even being poor, families would ensure that a big meal is prepared and new clothes are given to children.
“It doesn’t matter how poor you are, you still try to put a good meal together,” Pham says.
An interesting component of the celebration is the preparation. It is traditional to completely clean your house from top to bottom. The cleaning is symbolic of getting your affairs in order prior to the start of the New Year.
Clean out the debris of the previous year so you can start afresh. Another manifestation of this is the tradition of paying off your debts before the end of the year.
Luck and superstitions surrounding it are a big part of the celebrations and everybody is careful not to do things that could bring bad luck. For example, once your house is cleaned you don’t sweep for the first three days of the New Year.
Pham strives to keep the New Year traditions of his culture alive. He enjoys this time of year and ensures his family marks the celebration.
n The Immigrant Welcome Centre is hosting a large Lunar New Year Celebration Fundraiser and Potluck on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Community Centre to recognize this meaningful date.
The evening will include a potluck dinner with cash bar, live cultural entertainment, silent and live auctions and raffles. All guests must be of legal drinking age to attend.
Tickets are a donation of $15 or more and are available at the newly opened Snow Pea Tea House on Historical Pier Street or the Immigrant Welcome Centre, located in Robron Centre. Tickets will be available at the door if available.
All funds from the evening are being donated to local groups, hosted by the Immigrant Welcome Centre and a portion to help an orphanage in Vietnam.