BANGOR, Maine — If you thought it was too late to make a new year’s resolution, on Saturday you had a second chance to make new ones at Bangor’s Vietnamese New Year celebration.
The lunar new year, or Tet, is the biggest holiday festival in Vietnam, and more than 100 people joined the fun at the former Blockbuster store on Hogan Road. Revelers dressed as a large playful lion — which was fed red envelopes to bring good luck — danced through the crowd in between traditional and modern dances and a traditional long dress fashion show.
Emcees for the evening were Vanessa Nguyen, owner of Little Vietnam restaurant, and Gerry Palmer, former Bangor City Council chairman and chair of the Chinese Center. Between dances and raffles, Nguyen and Palmer spoke of the traditions in both Vietnamese and English.
Tet is the point of transition between the old year and the new year with all of its promise. It is believed that anything that happens during the holiday will be repeated the entire year so careful preparations are made. Old things are taken away, and new things are brought in. Even floors are swept from the outside to the center of a room so good luck is not swept outside. Ancestors and elders are honored with fruit, cakes and incense with the belief that this honor will be returned.
The greeting during Tet is “Van Su Nhu Y,” or “May all your wishes come true.”
Dana Le likes the holiday for its focus on family and happiness.
“It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of Christmas,” she said. “Food and fruit is presented to your elders, and they give you red envelopes of money.” Red symbolizes luck, as do lions.
Working the large white lion’s head, Steve Wong of Bangor playfully “ate” red envelopes and winked in approval. The lion’s role is to scare away evil spirits by dancing and then going to sleep. Wong’s grandfather came to Bangor around 1930, and his mother was the grand marshal of the Chinese parade on Friday.
He said that when his mother came to Bangor in 1949 she said there were only three Chinese families, all of whom were related. According to the 2010 U.S. census, there are 549 Asians living in Bangor, an increase of 50 percent since the 2000 census listing of 364.
For Wong, the lunar new year is like Thanksgiving, when everyone treks back home to honor their family, living and deceased.
Part of the evening’s events included highly stylized dances to Vietnamese music in traditional long dresses with straw hats and fans. Le choreographed both dances. Modern dances in contemporary dress were performed by members of the Bangor Ballet and Thomas School of Dance.
The fashion show of long dresses is also traditional. In the Vietnamese culture, dresses are long shifts with waist-high side slits over long pants. Fashion expresses one’s spiritual identity while recognizing formal dresses as works of art and honoring the Vietnamese cultural heritage.
As with any culture, food plays a major role. Fruit, cakes and meat are set upon an altar in honor of one’s ancestors. The varying color and flavor of fruit has certain meaning: red for luck, green for hope, orange for success, pink for love and yellow for happiness. The selection of fruit shows the wishes of the owner for the new year.
The evening concluded with a meal provided by Little Vietnam Restaurant. It included a tasty traditional cake made of sticky rice, mung beans and meat. A donation box was passed around and the proceeds will be split between the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department and The Salvation Army.