Fireworks, dancers help ring in Year of the Dragon

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - On Monday, thousands of Vietnamese-Americans across South Mississippi greeted the new year with great food, family gatherings and good wishes. "Tet" is the most important Vietnamese holiday that's steeped in centuries of tradition.

It was a fitting way to kick-off the Vietnamese New Year celebration. Twin dragons helped ring in "The year of the Dragon" with ear-popping firecrackers and the pounding of the drums.

Seven year old Jayden Hornke covered his ears when he heard the burst of fireworks.

"It was cool," he said.

The rousing dragon dance served a double purpose.

"It does chase the evil spirit, the bad luck. The firecrackers are supposed to chase all that away and bring in the new. So a lot of symbolic meaning in the dances," said Sue Nguyen-Torjusen.

She is the owner of Le Bakery in east Biloxi. Every Lunar New Year, she invites the dragon dancers to perform outside and inside her business.  For instance, the dragons paused for a few minutes in her kitchen.

"They're almost bowing down to the ovens. That's the tools of my trade.  And they're going through the building, kind of funny, the cash register essentially," she said.

At one point, the dragons grabbed some tangerine and presented the slices to a few people in the crowd.

"When the dragon actually takes the fruit and gives us back to us, it's just to share the good luck.  So we just pass that around for good will, good luck and prosperity," Nguyen-Torjusen explained.

In the final act, the dragons reached up to grab some cabbage and stacks of red envelopes taped to a pole.

"Cabbage, which is representing money and then what they do is they kind of spit it back at the building and at us. So it's kind of like coming back with money," she said.

This year, Torjusen added a sweet new tradition. She baked petit fours of tiny dragons and cherry blossoms.

"It's a fusion between American and our Vietnamese culture you know," she explained.

Torjusen is trying to share the significance of the festive Tet holiday with the younger generation. One tradition the children seemed to enjoy was receiving red envelopes stuffed with money for good fortune.

"Maybe they need to learn about good luck and stuff," said 11-year-old Vivian Khuu.

"So I can respect my culture, know more about it so I can teach my kids about it too," said 14-year-old Gina Khuu.

The Tet celebration lasts for three days.  Monday was also the Chinese New Year.

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