One of New Orleans’s largest immigrant waves in the last 40 years has been the Vietnamese. As the Communist regime took over Vietnam in the mid-1970s, the Catholic church resettled several thousand Vietnam natives here in South Louisiana. As with many other local ethnic groups, despite their tenure here, many people of Vietnamese ethnicity maintain their distinct ancestral culture and heritage. As such, they continue to practice many of their traditional customs and holidays.
A sacred and widely celebrated holiday in Vietnam is Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short. Tet is the start of the Lunar New Year and a time of great celebration in Vietnam. Naturally, when people of Vietnamese heritage re-settled in the New Orleans area, they wanted to continue celebrating that tradition. This year the Lunar New Year falls on Thursday, Feb. 19th, just two short days after Mardi Gras. Those looking to keep the celebrations going can do so at Tet Mary Queen of Vietnam church in New Orleans East.
If you’re here as a visitor, this festival would be an experience worth the drive to New Orleans East. While public transportation is possible, it would be quite cumbersome for that distance. However, if you’re in town with a car, this is an interesting and fun reason to leave the confines of the French Quarter and take a peek into the lives of our local Vietnamese population. It would even be worthwhile for any local who’s not previously had the time to travel out to New Orleans East to experience this jubilant celebration.
In Orleans parish, the Tet celebration and festival takes place from Wednesday, Feb. 18 to Saturday, Feb. 22, at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church on Dwyer Boulevard. Church services kick off this multi-day celebration at 9 p.m. on Wednesday evening. Since this is also Ash Wednesday, the day is reserved for reverent celebration, but the Mass will also feature fireworks and traditional dances. Thursday (Feb. 19) brings about more religious celebrations at the church. On Friday, Feb. 20, the actual festival, which takes place on church grounds, starts and runs from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. that night. The festival continues on Saturday and Sunday starting at 10 a.m. each day and ending at 11 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively. The lively festival will feature Vietnamese cuisine along with traditional celebrations like music, dancing, entertainers and fireworks.
Experience “Little Vietnam”
In addition to the festival, it’s worth the trip out to the east to visit New Orleans’s “Little Vietnam” settlement, also know as Village de L’Est, where the Mary Queen of Vietnam church is located. Just a short drive away from where the festival takes place is an assortment of Vietnamese culinary delights. Local favorite Pho Bang is stationed in that area, and visitors can delight in their traditional pho, bun and rice dishes. Dong Phuong is also a perennial Vietnamese cuisine favorite, and their adjacent bakery is well-known for stocking many of our local restaurants with their small, unique New Orleans-style French bread loaves. Their pastries and sweets are also beloved here in the Crescent City.
If you’re feeling adventurous and can bring yourself to awaken in the wee hours of Saturday morning, you can experience an authentic taste of Vietnam at the weekly farmers market. The market starts at 6 a.m. and is typically winding down around 8 a.m., though it technically runs until 9 a.m. Best to get there early for prime selection and the largest array of foodstuffs. At this market you can find a variety of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, groceries and even meat and seafood selections. The market is located at 14401 Alcee Fortier Blvd.
Buddhist Tet Celebrations
Finally for those looking for Buddhist celebrations for Tet, they’ll take place in Belle Chasse at the Bo De Temple located on Highway on Louisiana State Highway 996. Their festivities are similar to Mary Queen of Vietnam’s with Buddhist religious ceremonies taking place on Feb. 19-21, and the celebratory festival taking place on Saturday, Feb. 28 and Sunday March 1. This is great news for those who need a few days of recovery after Mardi Gras. If you miss the celebration at Mary Queen of Vietnam that falls right after Mardi Gras, you can find another one the following weekend. Though this event takes place in Jefferson parish on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, it’s still worth the drive to experience an authentic Tet celebration.