Chuc mung nam moi! ‘Happy New Year!’

These words were heard throughout the night at the Portland State Vietnamese Student Association’s 13th Annual Tet Show, a celebration of the lunar new year held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom on Saturday.

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These words were heard throughout the night at the Portland State Vietnamese Student Association’s 13th Annual Tet Show, a celebration of the lunar new year held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom on Saturday.

More than 100 people attended this showcase of Vietnamese culture and local talent, which included performances of traditional music and dancing, hip-hop-infused pop songs and electric guitar instrumentals.

Tet is one of the traditional holidays of Vietnam, arguably the most popular, and is celebrated with much preparation and care. The full name of the holiday is Tet Nguyen Dan, which means “feast of the first morning.” It is based on the lunar calendar and is typically celebrated on the same day as the Chinese New Year.

The VSA has been hosting its Tet show every year since the group’s inception in 2000. A.C. Nguyen, public relations officer for the VSA, explained that several months of preparation went into organizing the event.

Reserving the venue and getting approval for an outside food vendor, Hanoi Kitchen, took advance planning, but the biggest challenge was rehearsing for the performances. All the work paid off.

“Every year it tends to get a little bit bigger,” Nguyen said. “We do have some recognition within the community as one of the events of the year.” The show is promoted mostly through word of mouth, by students and members of the local Vietnamese community.

This year marks the Year of the Snake in the Vietnamese zodiac. In Vietnamese symbolism, there are many types of snakes. Nguyen explained that this year’s snake is a water snake.

“Water means life, the rebirth of life and celebration,” he said.

The theme of spring and rebirth was everywhere apparent in the decorations and costumes performers wore. Bold hues and subtle pastels mimicked the budding flowers of spring. On each table was a vase of flowers in one of the two traditional Tet varieties: the hoa mai and the hoa dao, known for their yellow and pink petals, respectively.

The show was hosted by Jennifer Truc-Ly Le and Daniel Harris, who made an entertaining pair. They both wore traditional dress, Le in a flowerpatterned ao dai and Harris in a blue ao gam. Le and Harris mostly traded words in Vietnamese, occasionally punctuated with English.

Harris, an American who learned Vietnamese while on a two-year mission in Houston, Texas, impressed the crowd with his near-perfect pronunciation. A wave of “ooh!” spread through the audience when he first spoke.

The show started with a traditional lion dance performed by members of local troupe GDPT Minh Quang. While a thunderous drum and cymbals echoed through the ballroom, a figure in a Buddha-like mask tamed two giant lions into submission.

During the second performance, a song by a vocal quartet, members of the group passed out a traditional red envelope, called li xi, to various tables. Typically, the envelope is given to children to mark the beginning of Tet. Red symbolizes good luck and happiness.

Following this was a solo performance by one of the previous group’s members, Ngan Daisy Nguyen. With a hoa mai in her hand she owned the stage with a shimmering vocal on a minor-keyed ballad called “Lang Nghe Mua Xuan Ve,” meaning “Listen to the Return of Spring.”

Local traditional dance troup Au Co took the stage next. They performed in matching yellow and black ao dai and non la, the famous conical hats of Vietnam, which the young women used for visual effect. Au Co is a nonprofit group that performs around the Portland area. Any money they raise goes back into the community, Nguyen explained.

After every few performances the hosts would bring up VSA officers to quiz them on Tet trivia. Questions such as “What is taboo to do on the first day of Tet?” (answer: sweep one’s house) or “What scares away evil spirits?” (answer: the dancing lions) were mostly answered with ease. Occasionally, someone in the crowd had to answer as a “lifeline.”

At other times, the hosts quizzed audience members about some of their Tet traditions. Answers ranged from gathering with family, ancestor veneration, making food and using no swear words for the holiday.

Other highlights of the show included a performance by Tracey Than on the traditional Vietnamese instrument called a dan tranh, a plucked zither that sounds like a cross between a harp and a sitar. She performed a complex arrangement from memory and thanked her parents for making her learn the instrument.

A modern acoustic group called FAB played several songs, backing up singers on guitar and cajon, a wooden drum of Latin American origin.

Later, a fashion show featured members of the VSA. Each young woman was escorted onstage by one of the male members and showed off her own unique ao dai. Some of the models appeared adorably shy, while others seemed no stranger to the catwalk.

“I loved the fashion show; they all looked amazing,” Brianda Nunez, a graphic design major, said at the end of the night.