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Every year, a shopping mall known as Asian Garden Mall and located in Westminster, CA, hosts a festival in preparation for the approaching Lunar New Year. It is called the Little Saigon Flower Festival, and it represents one of the major traditions of Vietnamese culture. The event’s significance for Vietnamese-Americans is also notable as the festival attracts large crowds, fully occupying the located near parking spaces filling the area with music and chatter. However, the market, a central part of the Flower Festival, also has a practical aspect, providing not only entertainment but also supplies, decorations, and presents for the Lunar New Year’s celebration.
Asian Garden Mall hosts the festival annually, providing the territory around the main building to vendors and performers. During the rest of the year, the shopping center offers various products, including Vietnamese foods and items. It works during the festival as well, but the arriving guests and mostly interested in the goods from small outside kiosks. It should be noted that the festival is held for several days, and its primary purpose is to prepare the visiting people for the main celebration. That is why the Flower Festival usually closes two or three days before Lunar New Year. In 2019, the festival was opened from January 18 to February 3, inviting visitors daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The center of all activities that bring the majority of the people to the Flower Festival in the market. It is a collection of small stalls, where people offer a variety of products. For example, flowers and trees are a significant part of all goods. In Vietnamese culture, such flowers as orchids, peach blossoms, or the so-called Mickey Mouse plants (Ochna serrulata) are traditional for this occasion. People can adorn their households with these plants or present them to others as gifts that bring luck in the upcoming year. Visitors seem to be ready to pay significant prices for some saplings since one can see offers go up to $1,000. Other types of plants are sold as well, and the selection is filled with flowers that usually grow in Vietnam. Some of the flowers such as narcissi and Mickey Mouse plants have not bloomed yet, but people still buy them for themselves and their loved ones. Finally, vendors showcase and sell small bonsai trees for decoration. These trees are often presented in a scene with figurines and other souvenirs. The smell of flowers engulfs the whole area where the festival takes place.
Decorations and other items are offered to the visitors as well. There are large stands with souvenirs or traditional items for good luck, health, love, and prosperity. Children may be interested in a variety of toys, some of them glowing or playing music. Older people may look at items for house décor – golden pigs (the symbol of this year), painted and gold-covered lanterns, fans, or charms. Costumes are also offered to the guests – mostly presented in red, dresses and shirts with embroidered flowers are aimed at creating a festive mood for anyone. Finally, painters and calligraphers can create personal presents for the guests, writing down names and celebratory messages on charms.
Apart from traditional products that demonstrate the cultural heritage of Vietnam, many vendors sell handcrafted goods. One can see paintings, clothes, hats, bags, accessories, toys, jewelry, and other items. Interestingly, some people offer non-tangible products such as insurance. Moreover, a number of booths are set up for discussions about the climate, culture, history, and traditions of Vietnam, the United States, and the world as a whole.
The next type of goods is food – sweets, spices, and other products are presented in concession stands. People can buy the necessary items for their New Year’s meals or look at the traditional cuisine of Vietnam if they are tourists. Some of the stands also offer premade foods that people can eat at home or while walking through the crowds. Fruit is another commonly displayed product – booths sell dragon fruit and Buddha’s hand fruit, otherwise known as citron. A notable and interesting plant is durian that is known because of its unusually strong smell. However, street food cooked right in front of people’s eyes appears to be much more popular to consume during the festival.
It is clear that the role of vendors is not only to sell their merchandise but also to represent and preserve the Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese-Americans who visit the event are thinking about their traditions when choosing flowers or souvenirs. Other guests get acquainted with the nature of the Lunar New Year and its celebration. Tet (the Vietnamese name for this holiday) is one of the most significant days of the year for Vietnamese people. It symbolizes the coming of spring, and flower sellers understand that their products have a deep meaning for people. Therefore, they act not just as businesspersons but as providers of valuable gifts and kind gestures. One can see why the Flower Festival is named that way, although it offers many other goods for sale. Furthermore, the role of all employees and owners of the businesses of the festival is to help attendees to prepare for the New Year.
During the day, people can taste Vietnamese iced coffee since the weather in California is warm enough for a cold drink. In the evening, the stalls with Vietnamese street foods are opened. They offer many types of dishes, but the majority of savory foods are grilled or roasted. For example, one can try prawns, squid, lobster, oysters, fried rice flour cakes (bột chiên), grilled meat skewers (thịt nướng), or rice crackers (bánh tráng). Other foods such as kettle corn and barbeque chicken are also available. Finally, desserts, notably coconut waffles, are prepared and sold as well. The smell of spices and fried seafood is an inherent part of the festival – street food is an essential aspect of Vietnamese culture. While one of the main goals of most Vietnamese-Americans is to buy flowers and other presents, food carts are also occupied.
The festival’s entertainment also opens Vietnamese culture up to all visitors. People can sing traditional and contemporary songs at an open karaoke stand. Some of the festivals, including this year’s one, have live performances by Vietnamese singers and bands. In 2019, a band played various instruments and performed songs for people to dance. It appears that both traditions and trends are appreciated by people who attend and run the festival. Guests see actors in masks and costumes who symbolize dragons and other mythological characters from old legends. In the evening, these entertainers walk through the festival, an event that resembles a small parade with music and dancing. The entertainment may be important for children who come to the event with their families.
People and Atmosphere
The festival welcomes guests of all ages and backgrounds, and its organizers create an atmosphere of authenticity through the described above elements. Therefore, one can see many Vietnamese-Americans but also persons from other cultures attending the event. Some of the visitors are wearing costumes, but many younger people are walking around the stalls in their everyday clothes. Many families can be seen purchasing flowers, taking pictures, and eating food. Some parents teach their children about their culture, and many individuals speak to each other in Vietnamese. Vendors also know Vietnamese and English which allows them to connect with their clients. In fact, the absolute majority of booths have Vietnamese signs and explanations. People in traditional costumes take pictures with other guests or win their relatives. People in traditional costumes take pictures with other guests or win their relatives.
It is vital to point out the prevailing color of the festival, red. It can be seen in all types of décor, clothes, costumes, and flowers. The majority of charms, fans, and other goods are also covered in gold, while the writings on them are mostly black. Calligraphy is a large part of gifts, but it is not as prominent in the design of booths. Stands are simple in their style with Vietnamese and English text and descriptions of sold items. Many of the businesspersons have small booths, so it is understandable why their choice of decoration was focused on simplicity and transparency. Nevertheless, some employees wear festive attire, although actors are the ones to represent the cultural significance of the festival visually.
The appearance of performers also differs from one person to another. Dancers and actors wear special costumes, woven hats, or masks. The most colorful is the symbol of a dragon – these performers are covered in shiny fabrics and accessories. Other outfits are less bright, but all participants’ dancing is still active and energetic. Musicians who accompany dancing dragons are also dressed in traditional clothes, and they have drums and other instruments. However, music bands that play during the evening hours can wear modern attire, while performing both old and new popular songs.
The Flower Festival hosted by Asian Garden Mall is a unique event that brings Vietnamese culture to its visitors and showcases the process of one’s preparation for the main holiday in Vietnam. The Lunar New Year or Tet is a significant day in the country, and the festival offers an opportunity to Vietnamese-Americans to preserve the traditions of its celebration. The festival’s atmosphere is full of unique traits that Vietnamese culture possesses.
The main part of the event is the market that offers goods for gifts and decoration. Flowers and small trees are sold in many booths since they serve as a valuable gift and a sign of luck. People can purchase blooming plants for themselves and their homes as well. One can see orchids, lilies, narcissi, peach blossoms, Ochna integerrima, and other flowers at the festival. Apart from plants, guests buy the symbol of the upcoming year, fans, charms, and lanterns. Food is a vital part of both the market and entertainment. Booths with street food offer grilled meat and seafood, traditional dishes, drinks, and desserts. People can sing, dance, eat, watch performances, and spend time with their loved ones.