On Feb. 22, the Vietnamese Student Association hosted their rescheduled Lunar New Year event. The event, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 6, had to be moved due to an ice storm that plowed through Memphis. Lunar New Year was certainly worth the wait, as it was truly a night to remember.
The year of the tiger
So what exactly is Lunar New Year? This is a celebration revered in many Asian cultures, including Vietnamese culture, and is referred to as “Tết.” Lunar New Year marks the start of a new lunar calendar, which is based on the moon’s cycle as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the Earth’s cycle around the Sun. The lunar calendar is a month ahead of the Gregorian calendar, hence why Lunar New Year is in late January through early February. Each new year also corresponds to a new animal of the Vietnamese Zodiac, and 2022 marks the Year of the Tiger.
Good luck and good games
I walked in at 5:00 to the event. My photographer and I had around two hours to kill before the main event began, so I turned my attention to the four tables set up just outside the ballroom where the main event was held. One table was fortune telling, one was Vietnamese games, another was making lucky bracelets and the last table was devoted to coloring sheets. At 5:15, the crowds began streaming, time to get my quotes and round out this story.
My first visit was to the fortune-telling table. How this worked was there was a large sheet of paper laid on the table, covered in brown sticky notes. Underneath each of the notes was a fortune, and once all of the notes were lifted, a mural of a tiger’s face would be revealed! Another aspect of this table was the possibility of winning a prize, a Yellow Mai Blossom (Hoa Mai), a symbol of happiness and prosperity for the new year, plus a symbol of blessings. Each of the five petals represent longevity, health, wealth, peace and virtues.
After taking my second fortune, I decided to grab my first set of quotes. Julia Nguyen, the VSA member hosting the fortune telling table, provided some context on both fortune-telling on Lunar New Year and what the holiday means.
“Since Lunar New Year is based on good blessings and fortunes, we would put these in red envelopes known as Li Xi. They would be accompanied with money inside, but we’re modifying it with the tiger colors, so when all the fortunes are lifted, the mural is revealed!” Nguyen said. I opened the question up further to what Lunar New Year meant to her, and what the holiday means in general.
“It means family, celebration, meeting new friends and a time to relax. Just basically a time to relax and spend time with family.” Nguyen said.
Next, I made my move to the game table, where a game called Co Dua Ngua, also known as Horse Race Chess, was being set up. Think of that old game “Sorry!” but with horses and you’ll get an image of how it works. I picked the green horses and the game became an intense affair, I ended up winning, lucky me. As I was playing, another VSA member, Danny Nguyen, sat at the table and took over. Multitasking time, as I was rolling the dice for my next move, I was getting quotes from Nguyen on what the Lunar New Year meant to him and what his favorite part of the holiday was.
“It means celebrating the new years with family and friends and giving out good fortune,” Nguyen said. Nguyen’s favorite part of Lunar New Year? Well, in his words:
“The performances are my favorite part. Some people might say food too.”
And with that, 7:00 came and the ballroom opened. Time for the main event.
Dancing into a new year
My photographer, Aarron Fleming, and I, took our seats at the closest table to the stage that we could find. The tables had Xi Li envelopes on them, red fortune-telling fish and a stack of tangerines (Just as a quick aside, oranges, and similar fruits, are often given as gifts on Lunar New Year and symbolize good fortune). The tables directly in front of the stage were for the sponsors of the event and were decorated with Hoa Mai blossoms, another symbol of good fortune.
After a set of speeches from both the vice president of the VSA, Maria Le and Sondra Pham Khammavong, who founded the VSA in 2014, the first performance got off quickly, a lion dance performed by the Lions of the Sacred Heart, a group made of members from Sacred Heart Church.
Six performers played the three lions with two performers to a costume. Behind them was a small band, giving the dancers their rhythm. The lions, which were adorned with fluffy white trim, came in bright blue, green and black and red and blue. The lions began on the stage, then ran in different directions to interact with the audience members. At the end of the performance, the bright blue and red and blue lions released red scrolls from their mouths as the climax of the show.
Following the song, the next event began, the “áo dài” fashion show (Another sidenote, the áo dài is a traditional Vietnamese garment worn by both men and women. It is a long tunic/dress worn over trousers, in the most basic of descriptions). The models were clad in a variety of bright, colorful and gorgeous áo dài in a wide array of colors. Some of the models held Hoa Mai blossoms, others held green-wrapped packages with “Tết 2022” on them.
Steven Tang was the magician, and out of all the acts of the night, his was my favorite. His act began with a simple, but effective trick: he lit the end of a metal stick on fire, covered it with his hand and poof, the fire was transformed into a red flower!
Next, he poured some water in a round globe, think of a fishbowl but shrunk, and covered it with a cloth. Then, he ripped the cloth off and revealed a few goldfish!
The next two tricks I call the “Crush duo”. The first of these was Tang pulling objects from a hollow tube, including a baguette, a squirrel plush and a bottle of peach Crush soda. The second was a variation of the classic “milk in newspaper cone routine:” He revealed a newspaper, folded it, poured some Crush soda into the folded newspaper, which Tang revealed was dry, and then poured the soda out of the newspaper right into the fishbowl-shaped container from earlier (fortunately, it was emptied of goldfish before he did this trick).
The Crush duo gave way to two dove transfiguration tricks. The first trick, Tang inflated a white balloon, placed it into a small cage and popped it. Tang then opened the cage, revealing a white dove inside. The next trick began with Tang igniting a piece of paper in a container, closing the container and upon opening it, revealing a dove statuette. The statuette was caged, and upon reopening the cage, it was transformed into the real deal.
The final duo of tricks involved doubling objects. Tang started by revealing two pieces of cardboard, decorated in red, yellow and silver. He then positioned them perpendicular to one another on a small table and raised the cardboard piece, revealing a tall shot glass. I refer to these as anise glasses, as they resemble the glasses that ouzo, sambuca and pastis is traditionally served in. The trick ended with five total anise glasses revealed.
The final two routines were dance routines. The first was a boys’ dance, hosted by the Vietnamese group TNTT, also from Sacred Heart. Five boys made up the routine, four wearing blue áo dài and one wearing a red áo dài. The dance was very controlled and synchronized, beginning with boat oars as part of the routine and concluding with a dance with traditional conical hats.
The final performance of the night was a modern fan and hat dance performed by the ladies of the VSA. The dance began with each dancer using two conical hats to symbolize flower petals, then the routine flowed into using blue fans as part of the routine, again to symbolize flower petals.
What a perfect way to conclude this amazing night, with a gorgeous routine by áo dài-clad dancers.