Westerners associate snakes with fangs and the fall of Adam and Eve, while the Vietnamese consider serpents as symbols of fertility and fortune. It’s perspective changing then that this Saturday in Fields Corner, the Vietnamese organizers of Tet in Boston (TIB) are making a special effort to reach out to people of all communities and ethnicities to join in celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Snake.
Tet is shorthand for “Tet Nguyen Dan,” which means “the first morning of the first day” of the new lunar year. The moveable New Year’s occurs sometime in late January or early February on the Gregorian calendar. In 2013 Tet technically arrives only on February 10, but TIB had to schedule a week early. Asians mark the holiday on different days for different lengths of time and in different ways.
The usual description of this Vietnam’s biggest holiday is “It’s like Christmas, New Year’s and your birthday all rolled into one!”
Though attendance has dropped in recent years, the daylong celebration on Feb. 2 at the Harbor Pilot School is still the largest Vietnamese gathering of any kind in New England. Between 2000 and 2007 when the event was held at the Bayside Expo Center attendance ranged from 7,000 to 10,000. Organizers expect about 3,000 over the course of the day this weekend.
Volunteer organizer Dan Thanh Nguyen says, “I hate to sound cliché, but we are proud to say that Tet in Boston is truly an event that is of the community, by the community, and for the community.”
TIB is a volunteer-run event organized by the Vietnamese American Community of Massachusetts (VACM) and the Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association (IVSA) of New England. Lower Mills resident Mr. Binh Nguyen is VACM President and Co-Chair of the TIB Organizing Committee. Other Dot organizers include Mr. Vu Ngo, Chair of the Performing Arts Sub-Committee and Long Le, Chair or the Carnival Sub-Committee.
Supporting the two main organizers are 25 Boston-based organizations and media agencies (Asian Times newspaper, Tieng Chuong newspaper, Tieng Nuoc Toi Radio and Saigon Broadcasting Television Network), who help publicize the event, sell raffle tickets, decorate the venue, and arrange for performances.
The 11 a.m. opening ceremonies involve the exchange of New Years greetings. Organizers expect several state, city and religious leaders to speak. Veterans from the South Vietnamese army present both the South Vietnamese and US flags.
College students who live in Dorchester or attend local schools will perform a traditional dances and model traditional fashions. Professional singers include Dorchester residents Hoàng Kate and Ngọc Diễm, South Shore vocalists Hoang Van and Hoang Thong, and guest stars from California Giang Tu, Ha Thanh Xuan and Philip Huy.
Dot-based Vo Thuat Binh Dinh will showcase the martial arts and drum work of the Binh Dinh province as well as present a traditional lion dance. A St. Ambrose youth group will also do a traditional dance. Modern Times, a Dorchester band, will be the primary band throughout the day.
While there are outreach innovations this year like an open mike and performances by a Tibetan troupe, the passing on traditions remains the major focus of the gathering. Grandparents distribute “lucky money” in red envelopes. Folks hang prayer wishes in Vietnamese or English from strings on the wall. Vendors sell leaf-wrapped square (bahn chung) and round (bahn day) sticky rice cakes. And everyone learns to look at snakes in a new way.