Tet Festival returns to O.C. fairgrounds this weekend to mark the Year of the Cat

Festivalgoers celebrate at the Tet Festival at the O.C. Fairgrounds on Friday in Costa Mesa.
Festivalgoers celebrate as members of the Koa King Tong Lion Dance Assn. open the Tet Festival at the O.C. Fairgrounds on Friday in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa is ringing in the Year of the Cat, as the annual Tet Festival returns this weekend to recognize Vietnamese Lunar New Year with the theme “Road to Our Homeland.”

Presented by the nonprofit Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California, the event showcases traditions and customs practiced within the Vietnamese community, as loved ones across generations enjoy the arrival of spring, forget about past troubles and celebrate new beginnings.

UVSA member and organizer Alan Tran said the organization’s first festival took place in 1982 and appeared at different venues before coming to the county fairgrounds in 2014.

Vietnamese elders pray over a deity during the opening day of the Tet Festival at the O.C. Fairgrounds.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Since then, the event has grown, incorporated features similar to the 626 Night Market, but retained its original spirit. Organizers say it is the largest Lunar New Year festival in the nation and is completely run by students and volunteers.

“Our Tet Festival is definitely a fusion of old and new,” Tran said Wednesday, describing a mix of food, art exhibits, games, performances and local traditions, like an opening day procession Saturday morning and a Miss Vietnam of Southern California pageant later that day.

“Last year, we had a scaled-back festival, due to COVID. But this year, we’re returning full force with more sponsors and more events. Our theme this year, Hướng Về Quê Hương or ‘Road to Our Homeland,’ is welcoming people back to our community and to our festival.”

Tue Nguyen decorates a Lucky Tree during the opening day of the Tet Festival at the O.C.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Known for food contests, this year’s event features a pho-eating contest and a blindfold fruit-tasting contest Saturday at 4 p.m. and a watermelon contest later that day at 7 p.m.

The festival began Friday evening and continues Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $8 at the gate and is free for children 2 years and younger when accompanied by a paying adult.

On Saturday only, from 11 a.m. to noon, those who wear traditional outfits, military and scout uniforms (no costumes) may enter free of charge. The O.C. fairgrounds are located at 88 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa. For more, visit

Ruy Gan and Demora Pham, 2, look at colorful lanterns.
Ruy Gan and Demora Pham, 2, look at colorful lanterns at one of the cultural displays at the Tet Festival in Costa Mesa Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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