37th Annual Tet Festival returns to OC Fair

Tens of thousands gather at OC Fair to celebrate Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Fairgoers of the 2018 Tet Festival examine a display of “Toi Muon” wishes for the Lunar New Year at the OC Fair & Event Center on Sunday (Holly Broxterman/Lariat)

The 37th Annual Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California Tết Festival returned to the Orange County Fair & Event Center Feb 16 through Feb 18 to coincide with the Lunar New Year. The Year of the Dog summoned a grand celebration featuring live entertainment, hundreds of ethnic food and merchandise vendors, community competitions and a festive cultural village.

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration, also known as Tết Nguyên Đán (meaning “feast of the first morning of the first day”), represents the beginning of spring and a time of renewal. The Cultural Village featured displays of several traditions, primarily geared toward younger generations. One such interesting display, Tôi muốn (meaning “I want”), featured thousands of slips of colored paper for attendees to write out their wishes and hang them on a large communal tree for all to see the new beginnings they desire.

Boasted as the largest student-run Vietnamese New Year festival in the nation, according to the event’s website, the event is known to draw up to 60,000 guests annually over the three-day weekend.

Originally based in Garden Grove, the festival was eventually moved to Costa Mesa as attendance continued to increase over the years. The event was known to draw in up to 100,000 guests when the Tết Festival was previously held in Little Saigon. Despite the move to a larger venue, attendance has weaned as the once sole Vietnamese New Year celebration in the area appears to have created a void during the transition which spawned several smaller celebrations closer to Garden Grove.

This year, the UVSA met a fair bit of competition from another local Tết Festival at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley which is now in its second year and organized by Andrew Do, Supervisor of OC Parks and the CEAVA Foundation, a little-known family-owned organization in Westminster. The event is being referred to as the “3rd Annual” despite having taken a hiatus in 2017 from its inaugural festival in 2016. The park-held celebration became a popular alternative to the festival at the OC Fairgrounds due to the convenient location and low cost when the prominent Garden Grove festival relocated in 2014.

Admission to the OC Fair & Event Center cost $8 to park and $6 per adult for the festival, whereas the casual setting of the Mile Square Park event offered free parking and admission. However, considering the Fountain Valley Tết took a year off and did not celebrate the Year of the Rooster, fair-goers may appreciate the stability and advanced planning of the prominent Garden Grove-based festival which has served the community for nearly 4 decades.

The Tết Festival may offer the welcoming atmosphere which many have been seeking but all can enjoy. Thankfully, both Tết Festivals are a weekend event, so everyone is able to enjoy both festivals over multiple days.

Visit OCNewsTeam.com to see coverage of the final day of the festival and closing parade.