During February and March, it seems as if the only event that we can focus on is Carnival – even if you’re not a fan of the purple, green and gold. As King Cakes fill up offices and classrooms, and we all struggle (and fail miserably) at keeping glitter at bay, the all-consuming nature of our own city’s celebration causes us to forget another, also unique family-friendly event that’s just a part of the city’s history and cultural fabric as Mardi Gras: Vietnamese New Year, or Tet.
Even during Carnival season, most people remember the city’s Vietnamese heritage. Both Dong Phuong bakery in New Orleans East and Hi-Do bakery on the West Bank are famous for their King Cakes. The history of the Vietnamese community in New Orleans begins with the end of the Vietnam War when Catholic Charities in New Orleans brought families here, settling them in housing in the Versailles area of New Orleans East and the town of Marrero on the West Bank. New Orleans’ similar climate as well as our shrimp industry allowed these families to adapt quickly. Almost two generations later, these communities are a major cultural influence in the New Orleans community as we all enjoy their po’boy bread, King Cakes and tasty pho.
The Tet celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East gives us another chance to enjoy a different facet of Vietnamese culture. The Lunar New Year is in fact one of the most important days of Vietnamese culture and changes based on the Lunar calendar, usually falling in January or February. Also seen as the first day of spring, it’s the day when families remember their ancestors and hope for a better, more prosperous New Year.
The family-friendly event at Mary Queen of Vietnam will kick off February 7 at 6 p.m., and involves a wide array of games and activities. In particular, a firework display and dragon dance will begin at 6:30 p.m. On February 8, beginning at 10 a.m., visitors are welcome to browse various food and vendor booths as well as more games and performances throughout the afternoon. The celebration will close out Saturday with more traditional dances and performances.
Not only do these performances allow kids to get a glimpse of another cultural tradition, the food offerings give them an insight to an important role that the Vietnamese community has played in our city’s culinary history. While including last year’s well-deserved praised and popular Dong Phuong’s King Cake, the Tet celebration also features Vietnamese-inspired chargrilled oysters and the always-tasty bahn mi (small buns filled with spiced meats and vegetables that many locals refer to as “Vietnamese po’boys”). Meanwhile, there are also several special dishes that accompany Tet, in particular the small “Lunar Cakes,” or bahn-tet, made of jellied rice, rolled and then sliced into small cakes. The cake can be savory or sweet, and families often prepared the labor-intensive dish together as a way to remember their ancestors.
While our own Carnival season is also known as a time for family and friends to get together on the parade route, the Mary Queen of Vietnam’s Tet celebration offers us another chance to remember not only family that are no longer with us, but is also an important cultural influence in our city’s history whose impacts are various and diverse.
Just the Facts…
Mary Queen of Vietnam Tet Celebration
14001 Dwyer Blvd.
February 7: 6 p.m.-11 p.m.
February 8: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
February 9: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
For more information, visit their Facebook page: Facebook.com/MaryQueenofVietnamChurch