The Lunar New Year is almost here and even those who don't celebrate it might want to swing through the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster this week.
There, in the parking lot, dozens of vendors have set up tents for the Flower Festival, an annual tradition that leads up to the Lunar New Year, known as Tet in the Vietnamese culture.
This year Tet falls on Feb. 16 and ushers in the Year of the Dog. The Flower Festival will run through Valentine's Day.
"It's a great place to experience the Vietnamese culture and traditions," says Lyna Le, mall manager. "It's pretty much a one-stop shop. You can get your traditional coconut candies, your traditional rice cakes, your red envelopes (to put money in for New Year's gifts) and fermented vegetables and shrimp."
But the main thing people go for are the flowers, even if it's just to stroll among them.
Tents are packed with a variety of plants, particularly orchids, with price tags from $10 to $400 for some of the rarer species grown on Vietnamese soil.
Other tents are filled with buckets of blossoming tree branches, including yellow forsythia, pink cherry blossoms and pussy willows.
Visitors can also buy bundles of branches cut from the yellow flowering Mai tree (also called Japanese apricot or Japanese forsythia), which the Vietnamese bring indoors for good luck.
Tet is the most important Vietnamese holiday, says Thin Nguyen, spokesman for the largest Tet Festival in Southern California, which will be held this year from Feb. 16-18 at the OC fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. It marks the arrival of spring, which is why flowers play such a big role in the holiday.
Observers buy flowers to decorate their homes in the week leading up to Tet to prepare the house for a fresh start, as well as for friends and family who will visit during the week-long celebration. People also buy flowers to give as gifts.
"We have a tradition of going to each others' houses to wish blessings and good luck to start the new year," Nguyen says.
In the Vietnamese culture, Le says, gifts that are alive are the best gifts, because they bring life and prosperity to a home.
Starting this weekend festival vendors will also begin selling gladiolas and fragrant tuberoses, both of which are important in year-end prayers for ancestors, another cornerstone of Tet.
The festival runs daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. As the sun goes down, food carts come out to sell Vietnamese street food: barbecue skewers, coconut waffles and grilled squid and lobster.
There is also live music nightly, both traditional and pop. Saturday night will be especially festive, says Le, with four lines of lion dancers weaving through the tents to the sound of drums.
If You Go
Where: Asian Garden Mall, 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
When: Through Feb. 14
Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Feb. 16-18
Tet Festival 2018
Where: Mile Square Regional Park, 16801 Euclid St., Fountain Valley
When: Feb. 16-18