In 2023, the Vietnamese side of my family celebrated Lunar New Year together for the first time in years. The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors have gotten in the way of the holiday in the past, but this year my dad’s siblings decided to organize a party. When I was little, I remember dressing up in áo dài, the traditional Vietnamese outfit, and gathering at my grandparents’ house. The kids received red envelopes with money from our aunts and uncles and played a betting game called bầu cua cá cọp (in English, gourd crab fish tiger) with quarters. Both are wishes of good luck for the new year. Finally, of course, I remember eating various Vietnamese foods such as bún bò Huế (beef noodle soup) and bánh chưng (sticky rice).
This year, as I reflected on my memories of Lunar New Year, I realized that I knew the practices but not the deeper meaning behind the holiday. My heritage is important to me, so on the drive to my uncle’s house, I asked my dad what traditions are the most important for the Lunar New Year. His answer surprised me and warmed my heart.
“Well honey, what’s really most important is to come home and be with family,” he said. Every year in Vietnam, Lunar New Year is the largest migration of people from their work in the city to their homes in the country. Most businesses close for several days around the New Year. As Vietnamese immigrants and their children, my family was following the tradition by gathering and spending time together.
At the party, we participated in the same activities of eating, gambling, and envelope-gifting, but they were more meaningful to me now. Also, the women all agreed to buy new áo dài from my aunt’s shop. I was particularly excited about this because I hadn’t worn one since I was a child, and I always thought áo dài were beautiful. My uncle set up a backdrop and props and we took tons of pictures.
I’m happy knowing I am holding onto my heritage and carrying on the traditions of my family. Happy belated Year of the Cat!