Tân Niên: Students celebrate Vietnamese New Year

Performers do a Vietnamese dance during the Vietnamese cultural new years at the Baptist Campus Ministry Saturday, February 1st, 2014. (Demetrius Freeman/ HERALD)

Anna Roederer

Armed with banana leaves, rice, beans and raw meat, four teams faced off in a cooking challenge on Saturday night.

The friendly competition was a part of WKU’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet, at the Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM).

Sophomore Alberto Do talked about the importance of family and food with the celebration.

“My favorite part is the food,” Do said.

An integral dish to Tet is “banh chung,” a sticky rice cake. Banh chung is mainly comprised of rice, beans and meat wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked. This dish is linked to Vietnamese folklore and is shaped to represent the earth and sky.

Although sticky rice cake is an important aspect of Tet, sophomore Tinh “Andy” Ha said that the weeklong celebration is comprised of many traditions.

“Tet is the most important time of the year,” said Ha. “It is like a holiday.”

During this time, Ha said that there is a lot of cooking, family and friends visit each other’s homes, kids receive lucky money, fireworks go off, and cherry blossoms and mai flowers are everywhere.

Do said that he misses the lucky money the most of all of the traditions associated with Tet.

“It is a chance for us to make a profit,” he said.

While the celebration hosted by VSA is not as grand as the weeklong holiday in Vietnam, it provides a good opportunity for Vietnamese students to ward off any feelings of homesickness that might be present due to being so far from home during this important time of year.

“It is good for us because we are 12,000 miles away from home, and it brings back a lot of memories,” Ha said.

Senior Uyen Tran, VSA president, also acknowledged that this can be a difficult time for Vietnamese students who are so far away from their families.

“A couple of weeks before Tet, they [Vietnamese students] turn on New Year’s songs and to be honest some feel depressed,” Tran said.

Tran said that a lot of work went into organizing the event. A month was spent planning, and Tran said that she spent the night before the event cooking traditional Vietnamese dishes.

“It’s really fun being away from home to have something to prepare for Tet,” she said.

Tran said that she wanted to do something new, so the event was more interactive this year than in the past.

The celebration included competition among four teams to make banh chung, a dancing performance, dinner, a game which involved drinking lemons with sugar, and a comedy show that took a week’s work of intensive practice.

“It’s not that much to compare to the one in Vietnam, but it is the best we can do here,” Tran said.

Although Ha participated in the different competitions at the event, he was not a fan of the one which involved drawing numbers to determine how much lemon and sugar the different teammates would have to drink.

“It was terrible,” Ha said, “Too much sugar. The lemon wasn’t that bad, but the sugar was.”

While the majority of people who attended the Tet celebration hosted at the BCM were Vietnamese students, VSA also welcomed American students to participate and learn more about the food and culture of Vietnam in the process.

Mark Reeves, a WKU graduate student, said that he went to Tet last year because his Vietnamese roommate invited him. Although his roommate has since gone back home to Vietnam, Reeves returned this year for Tet.

“It’s good to spend time with people and show that we value their culture,” Reeves said. “It’s an honor to be able to come out and celebrate.”

Reeves was supportive of VSA’s celebration of the New Year.

“It is really important to have these types of events for students who are away from their families,” he said.