By Valerie Luu

New Year’s celebrations didn’t end on Jan. 1.

This year UC Santa Cruz’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) held the Tet Celebration Night Feb. 7, an event to commemorate the Vietnamese New Year.

Tet is the weeklong celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, in accordance with the Chinese lunar calendar, said Thanh Nguyen, head coordinator of VSA.

“Like the Chinese, the Lunar New Year is one of the most celebrated holidays,” Nguyen said.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2008 is the Year of the Rat, which begins this year on Feb. 7 and ends Jan. 25, 2009. The Chinese zodiac assigns an animal to each year, a cycle that repeats every 12 years. Because the rat is the first animal in the zodiac calendar, those who are born in this year are said to be leaders, pioneers and conquerors.

VSA is a student organization open to Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese students at UCSC.

“Our mission is to provide a friendly space for all UCSC students to get together to learn and share Vietnamese culture, as well as create connections and long-lasting friendships,” Nguyen said.

To start off the celebration, VSA gave out lì xì, red envelopes traditionally filled with money, although VSA substituted candy. Elders give the envelopes to children in exchange for good luck wishes. Other traditions include lighting firecrackers, paying respects to ancestors, cleaning the house and spending time with family.

“Vietnamese people are very careful about what they do on New Year’s Day. The events on New Year’s Day determine your luck for the rest of the year,” Nguyen said. “Therefore, everything and everyone you are in touch with on New Year’s Day should symbolize good fortune.”

Students who attended the event tested their luck by playing games and having their fortunes read. They were given handfuls of candy to gamble with in a game called Bau Cua Cá Cop, a three-dice betting game traditionally played during Tet.

Ryan Brenner, a second-year Oakes student, joined VSA because of his interest in Vietnamese culture.

“I learned how to play the traditional gambling game,” Brenner said. “It’s actually really fun.”

Tran Nguyen, a first-year Oakes student, said she joined VSA to get more involved with her Vietnamese community.

“It was nice seeing people our age get together and carry on a tradition, because I don’t see that a lot nowadays,” Tran Nguyen said. “Our generation is Americanized.”

Many parts of the event exhibited both Vietnamese and American traditions. Pizza, soda and cookies were served instead of traditional Vietnamese food, such as bánh chung, a sticky rice cake typically eaten during the Tet holiday. The lack of traditional food was due to time constraints and the unavailability of Vietnamese food in Santa Cruz, Thanh Nguyen said.

This year, the club participated in the Vietnamese Spring Parade in San Jose during the weekend following Tet. It was the club’s first time doing so, Thanh Nguyen said, and it is a tradition that VSA wants to establish.

“For our generation, the Vietnamese tradition might not be exactly how it is in Vietnam or how our parents see it,” Thanh Nguyen said. “We are trying to preserve as much as we can, even if it’s altered, even if we have something new in there that we connect with more.”