Happy Lunar New Year! To join this year’s celebration of Lunar New Year, we heard from our students Tinh Tran, Thi Thuy and Qiulan Hu. Learn more about our inspiring students, their experience with SMCEP, and how their families celebrate the Lunar New Year…

About Our Students

Meet Tinh Tran

Tinh Tran moved from Vietnam to the United States in November of 2013 for freedom. Tinh reflects: “In my experience, English is the most important thing when you come to America, life in America is not easy for older immigrants who do not know English. In order to be able to earn enough money to support your life, you have to work much harder than the local people, but of course, that is the price you pay for a brighter future for yourself and your children.”

Tinh learned about Saint Marks through friends 3 years ago and has been studying with us since. Tinh reflets on her improvement: “the English classes at SMCEP have helped me improve daily communication; I can talk to customers about topics, go shopping alone without my kids having to accompany me to translate, and I am also more confident going to places where there are no Vietnamese, where I was reluctant to go before.” After taking SMCEP citizenship classes, in November 2019 Tinh took the oath and became a citizen of the United States. From her experience, she recommends SMCEP as “very helpful for immigrants.” She adds, “Saint Marks also helps me meet immigrants from other countries, I love it! Saint Marks helps us understand each other, create sympathy and a sharing spirit among immigrant communities.”

Meet Thi Thuy

In February 2017, Thi Thuy moved to the United States from Vietnam. Thi Thuy describes “I came here because I like the life of U.S.; there is beautiful scenery, very good education, health care and transportation. The law is clear and strict.” Thi Thuy admires the scenery of autumn, and enjoys the beauty of when leaves change colors. Thi Thuy and her husband are proud to have one daughter, one son and five grandchildren.

Thi Thuy found SMCEP through work in September 2020. She says SMCEP has helped her improve English, and communicate more clearly. She says in class she listened closely, did her homework, and learned new words from the dictionary.

Meet Qiulan Hu

In 2016 Qiulan married her husband Peter in her native city of Nanning, China. Following the wedding, Peter was able to return to the United States as a citizen, but Qiulan had to wait two years before obtaining a visa to live with her husband in the United States. Qiulan is fluent in 5 different languages in China, but wanted to improve her English upon moving to the United States. Qiulan’s husband found SMCEP’s English classes online, and enrolled Qiulan. Qiulan says since taking classes with SMCEP, she can articulate her thoughts more clearly, without as much dependence on translation. Qiulan’s husband says her English language improvement since taking classes with SMCEP is “like night and day.” The couple are happy to have found Saint Marks.

Lunar New Year Traditions

This year, the Eve of Lunar New Year falls on February 17 and Lunar New Year falls on February 18.

In Vietnam, the first day of the first month of the Lunar New Year is “Tết”. Tinh describes, “Tet in Vietnam is a very sacred festival, a time to connect family, celebrate a long year of work, and plan for the upcoming year.” Thi Thuy emphasizes, “TET is the most important traditional holiday in Vietnam.” The preparation before Tet is “Tất Niên”, New Year’s Eve is “Giao Thừa”, finally the day of New Year and following days after Tet is “Tân Niên”.

Qiulan describes Chinese Lunar New Year is also called “the Spring Festival” (chūnjié 春节). According to the Chinese zodiac, this upcoming year is the Year of the Ox. Qiulan explains, “every zodiac sign has a special meaning so that children that are born in the year will be born with the characteristics of the zodiac. People born in this Year of the Ox will be hard working.”

Photographs from Qiulan of red goods such as lanterns and stuffed animals for celebrating the Year of the Ox

Before the Day of Lunar New Year

To prepare for Tet, everyone in Thi Thuy’s family “thoroughly cleans the house to get rid of the bad luck from the previous year.” Similar to Thi Thuy’s family, Qiulan says it is important to clean the house before Lunar New Year. She says, “out with the old and bad, in with the new.” Tinh agrees, and adds “Before Tet, everything is new and beautiful. Old things are thrown away, new things are bought. Everyone buys new clothes. Houses are painted and renovated. Inside the homes, every single item is cleaned. New flowers are planted in gardens, bonsai are pruned. The ancestral altar and Buddha altar are decorated, the tomb of the relatives is taken care of.”

Qiulan describes the morning of New Years Eve will be very busy, people will wake up early to begin cooking and cleaning. During Lunar New Year’s Eve, Tinh says typically “young people go to the streets to watch the fireworks and gather, while the elderly often turn to spirituality and worshiping.” Tinh describes a Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival was organized in Boston, with “many traditional activities such as folk games, calligraphy writing, music and drama.”

During the evening of New Year's Eve, Thi Thuy explains “all the members of my family have a dinner together and wait for the moment when the clock hits midnight.” There is a countdown for midnight and the New Year (3…2…1…). Qiulan laughs and adds, “it is always really noisy, people sing, bells ring, usually there are fireworks! Everyone likes fireworks.”

Once the clock strikes midnight and it is the day of Lunar New Year, Thi Thuy explains: “It is custom for when it is the New Year to wish for good health and happiness for the new year. During this time, we often put a tray of five specific fruits on the altars to pay our respects to our ancestors.”

Tinh’s children and nephew welcome New Year’s Eve in traditional Vietnamese clothing, “ao dai”.

Tinh’s photographs of New Years Eve worship at her home in the United States.

Lunar New Year Foods

Thi Thuy lists some the traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year foods: “Braised meat with eggs (Thit Kho Trung), jelly meat (Thit Dong), lean pork paste (gio lua), pickled onions (dua hanh), picked small leeks (cu kieu), watermelon and roast watermelon seeds.” Another popular Vietnamese Lunar New Year food is “chung chake”: a square shaped cake wrapped in green leaves (la dong). Thi Thuy says inside the wrapped cake is pork and mung beans covered in a sticky rice outside layer.

Tinh’s family prepared chung cake, a traditional Vietnamese dish for Tet.

Photograph of braised meat with eggs from Thi Thuy

Photograph of Chinese Lunar New Year foods from Qiulan

In the Southern provinces of China where Qiulan is from, she describes during the Chinese Lunar New Year, some people will buy sugar cane to cook with and leave in front of their door. Qiulan explains, “if you eat sweet, your life will be sweet”. During Lunar New Year, people will eat sweeter foods like apples, oranges and bananas. Qiulan also describes how foods symbolize meaning; apples represent peace and safety, oranges represent good fortune, celery represents diligence and working hard, lettuce represents making money, and carrots with their leaves attached are representative of beginnings and ends. A popular food for the Chinese Lunar New Year is “zongzi”, cakes made of glutinous rice.

Lunar New Year Day

Thi Thuy describes on the morning of New Year day, “we often go to our grandparent’s and relative's homes, to wish them good health, happiness and a happy new year. Children receive Red Envelopes from elders, giving lucky money in red envelopes is thought to bring children hope and good health. On Tet day, we often go to a Church and Pagoda to pray for all the best things for our family.” Thi Thuy adds, “Even though l am old, l still like TET, all my family members will gather together to celebrate and have fun to congratulate each other on New Year's day, eat traditional dishes and reminisce about good memories.”

Tinh elaborates, “one of the most important traditions of the Vietnamese traditional New Year is to visit and wish Tet, first with grandparents, parents and then siblings, relatives, and other relationships. A hobby but also has special traditional features in Vietnamese New Year is mai flower (“ochana integerrima”) and peach blossom. During Tet holiday, most families have a pot of mai or peach in the living room, and decorate it with Tet greeting cards, small and beautiful objects representing Tet.” Qiulan explains for Chinese Lunar New Year, “red is lucky, and represents good luck.” She says it is lucky to wear red and decorate with red paper banners and lanterns.

Celebrating this Lunar New Year’s Eve (February 17, 2021) and New Year’s Day (February 18, 2021)

This year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Thi Thuy and her family will celebrate Tet “according to current economic and social conditions”, with “limited travel and not much shopping.” Qiulan says this Lunar New Year she will stay home and make dumplings for her husband, because in a dumpling, “the meat and vegetables are together, representing a family together. Dumplings also represent patience, and are good luck for earning money and keeping families together.”

Qiulan smiles when she says the Lunar New Year “reminds me of happy things”, because “you cannot be angry in the New Year, everyone has to be happy, kind and laughing. My mom always said ‘everything is good and great during Lunar New Year, everyone has good luck!’” Tinh adds, “There is a tradition that I like very much in the traditional Vietnamese New Year that during the three days of Tet, people avoid saying hateful words and fighting with each other. Conflicts are easy to ignore, and people will easily forgive to each other because we believe the way you behave will set the tone for the whole year. If the beginning of the year is good, the whole year will be good too; and if the beginning of the year is bad, the whole year will be too.”

Saint Marks wishes everyone a Happy New Year! May this New Year bring health, peace, happiness, and good fortune to all.

chúc mừng năm mới (Happy New Year in Vietnamese)

新年快乐 xīn nián kuài lè (Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese)

Tinh’s family visited the Pagoda on Lunar New Year Day, a tradition for Vietnamese Buddhist families

Qiulan’s photograph of the dumplings and dishes she enjoyed with her husband Peter this Lunar New Year.