Tết in Seattle and Home in the New Year

by Felice Cat-Tuong Luu

In Vietnamese culture, this weekend will be our Lunar New Year celebration, an event for spending time with family, celebrating the year’s hard work, and setting the tone for a prosperous and happy new year.

The belief is that how we start the year will dictate how the rest of the year will go. To start the year off with good luck, families will clean the house, finish any repairs, and gather cousins, grandparents, and siblings under one roof.

It is by far one of the busiest and happiest times I can remember in my childhood.Although the date for Tết changes every year, I can always count on a Tết festival. Without fail, my family and I would go to the San Jose Tết Festival each year as it rolled around. When I first moved to Seattle, I quickly realized that I would miss the comfort of being surrounded by things so unmistakably Vietnamese: the language, the food, the flowers and dress, everything I could look at and call “home.” It really didn’t surprise me that within the first year of moving here, I found Tết in Seattle.

Happening the week before actual Lunar New Year, Tết in Seattle is a tradition that dates back to 1998 in the Seattle Center, according to Van Sang, the president of a Vietnamese officer refugee group that came to Washington. He and his fellow veterans always participate in the opening ceremony carrying the U.S. flag alongside the yellow-and-three-red-striped Vietnam flag.

“It’s not only for our generation, but for the younger generation to come,”Sang said when asked how his organization first got involved in the festival.  “When we carry our flag, we bring that culture, the spirit of the Republic of Vietnam so that it may continue to live in the people’s souls and people’s minds.”

For him, and many veterans and refugees like him, Tết becomes a time of nostalgia, dreaming of a country the Vietnamese still call home while living in a home built in a foreign country.

For my generation, the children of the refugees, Tết has a much lighter tone. Little kids run around in their traditional dress, carrying the red money envelopes we call lì xì, and dragging their parents to the sounds of spin-the-wheel games. Teens and young adults cut their way through the crowd to find savory meats and glistening noodles. Tết in Seattle is no exception to these staples and I couldn’t be happier to navigate such familiar surroundings.

Michael Tran, a 23-year-old volunteer at the Tết in Seattle kids’ booth, said he felt Tết was a time to have fun and eat good food. Then he jokingly added that it was a good time to get money from your relatives, too.

“It seemed like a lot of good fun,” he said of learning about Tết in Seattle. “I wanted to get back into the Vietnamese community so I posted on a Facebook group looking for something Vietnamese to do, and someone said to check out Tết in Seattle. I’ve been volunteering for two years now.”

At that moment, a little kid came up to look at the arts and crafts on the table, and Tran left to help them make a paper lantern.

All of the Vietnamese performances and traditions that get crammed into two buildings over the span of two days can be overwhelming, but for me it’s a grand welcome home. The lion dances, the Vovinam demonstrations, the singers and traditional dancers, they all remind me of the culture my parents passed down to me and the world I was born into.

It doesn’t matter what zip code I’m in or what area code my phone number has; as long as there is a Tết, as long as I am Vietnamese, I’ll know that I am where I belong.



Felice Cat-Tuong Luu is a third year communications and international studies major at the University of Washington. She is involved in the Vietnamese community through the Vietnamese Student Association and the art scene through clubs and internships from school. Felice also enjoys learning languages and has most recently attempted learning Portuguese. She lives in South Seattle and is currently interning with the Emerald.


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