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HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE flocked to San Jose’s History Park Saturday morning to ring in the Year of the Tiger at one of largest Lunar New Year festivals in the South Bay after two years of virtual celebration.

“It’s a blessing to be able to gather and celebrate the new year again with the community,” Ai Duong Truong, member of the Association of Vietnamese Elderly of the Bay Area, told San José Spotlight. “I just love this traditional and important holiday.”

Ai Duong Truong, member of member of the Association of Vietnamese Elderly of the Bay Area, is glad the community can celebrate Tết in person again this year. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

Lunar New Year, or Tết, is one of the most culturally significant holidays in the Vietnamese culture. The holiday is also celebrated by several other Asian countries, including China, Laos, Singapore and Korea. The first day of Tết is Feb. 1 this year.

The family-friendly event, organized by nonprofit Vietnamese Cultural Tết Committee 2022, ran through Sunday in History Park. The festival featured more than 50 booths by local businesses and community groups, Vietnamese food, live performances, traditional dress (áo dài) competition and lion dances, among other events. The Viet Museum, which is located in the park, was also open to fairgoers who wanted to learn and honor Vietnamese history.

Members of the Association of Vietnamese Elderly of the Bay Area posed for photo at the Tết festival Saturday. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

The celebration Saturday was flowing with elected leaders and political hopefuls — including the top four mayoral candidates Raul PeralezCindy ChavezDev Davis and Matt Mahan — all of whom are undoubtedly vying for the Vietnamese vote in this year’s race. Some politicians also donned the traditional áo dài or the South Vietnamese flag-themed attire.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate Raul Peralez handed out red envelopes to festival-goers on Saturday. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

Many residents dressed up in colorful áo dài, embellished with beads and pearls, with red envelopes in hands. Giving and receiving red envelopes is a tradition that symbolizes good wishes and luck for the new year. With music and laughter filling the air, festival-goers posed in front of three-wheel bicycle taxis, or cyclos (xích lô), and photos of famous Vietnamese destinations such as Chùa Một Cột and Chợ Bến Thành.

Tết festivals were previously hosted at the Santa Clara County fairgrounds, which often drew thousands of people from the South Bay and nearby regions. Since the pandemic started upending community gatherings in 2020, San Jose residents have opted for virtual celebrations for the last two years.

Tết festival-goers posed in front of cyclos and photos of famous Vietnamese destinations Saturday morning in History Park. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

Saturday marked the first time people could gather in person — many still donning masks and carrying hand sanitizer.

“The pandemic really robbed us of opportunities to come together these last few years,” Cao Hong, one of the event organizers, told San José Spotlight, “I’m grateful that we can celebrate again, especially here in Viet Museum, because we have fun but also look back at our history and the sacrifices of our older generations.”

San Jose is home to some 180,000  Vietnamese residents, making it the largest in any city outside of Vietnam.

Uyen (left), Jenny (center) and Phong Tran (right) were among hundreds of people at the Tết festival on Saturday. Jenny, 4, couldn’t wait to see the Tết festival in person for the first time. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

Jenny Tran, 4, couldn’t wait to see the Tết festival in person for the first time. Donning a yellow áo dài, Jenny ran ahead of her parents, Phong and Uyen Tran, from one booth to another.

“Happy New Year!” she said with excitement.

The family has shown her pictures of previous festivals, Uyen Tran said, and Jenny became obsessed with the Tết music.

“She loves this time of the year with all the decorations, the flowers, the music, the dance—all of it,” Uyen Tran said. “We’ve been to Autumn Festivals, but not for Tết.”

(Video courtesy of San Jose Spotlight/YouTube)

Phuong Anh Le and her son Ethan, 3, flew in from New York to celebrate Tết with their family in San Jose.

“There’s not a big population of Vietnamese where I live, so it’s always nice to be in San Jose during this time of the year,” Le said. “I just got to the festival, but I’m excited to see all the booths here. I love the food during Tết.”

Organizers also hosted a traditional ceremony, where members of the Association of Vietnamese Elderly of the Bay Area pay respect and homage to Vietnamese ancestors in prayers. The ceremony also dedicated a moment of silence to commemorate those who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975 but died in their journeys to the United States.

Tran (left) and Gregory Byrne (right) said the holiday could be a bittersweet time for Tran, as her immediate family still lives in Vietnam. (Photo by Tran Nguyen/San Jose Spotlight)

For Tran Byrne, who lives almost three hours from the South Bay, the holiday could be a bittersweet time. Byrne grew up in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. by herself several years ago.

“I always get homesick this time of the year,” Byrne said. “I missed the food, the atmosphere, everything.”

This is the second time Byrne and her husband, Gregory, attended such festivals in the U.S. They went to a celebration in Orange County three years ago.

“This is much more relaxing,” Gregory Byrne said. “This feels a bit like home.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at tran@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.