Richard Nguyen arranges panels of Vietnamese poems before adding them to the walls of a replica traditional temple as he prepares the site for upcoming Tet Festival of Southern California at the OC Fair & Event Center on Thursday. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / February 6, 2014)

Lily Pham was born to Vietnamese parents, and although she remembers visiting Vietnam as a child, she never fully understood her parents or related to their culture.

That is until Pham, 22, began getting involved with the annual Tet Festival of Southern California four years ago.

"I started getting more connected to my Vietnamese side," said Pham, a Cal State Fullerton senior who is this year's festival director of marketing. "It opened my mind to the traditional culture, and it became a really big part of me."

Organized by the Union of Vietnamese Students Assn. of Southern California, a network of student unions at various colleges and universities, the Tet Festival celebrates the Vietnamese lunar new year and opens a window into the culture.

Tet is short for Tet Nguyen Dan, which in Vietnamese stands for "Feast of the First Morning of the First Day." The new year officially began Jan. 31. In the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Horse.

For the first time since its inception in 1982, the Tet Festival is set to take place at the OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, a move that will provide the festival with a larger platform, Chairman Billy Le said. It has long been connected with Garden Grove.

Le said the fairgrounds is a place where the festival "can expand in the future and promote our Vietnamese culture to nearby communities."

The festival, which is set to take place Feb. 7 to 9, is expected to feature more than 100 booths offering traditional food, entertainment and games.

Attendees will get the chance to learn about basic Vietnamese etiquette and human-rights concerns, tour the recreation of a Vietnamese village and watch how a traditional wedding would be organized, Le said.

"People can come and observe our Vietnamese village as we try our best to recreate what it is like in Vietnam to see a marketplace or a straw house," he said.

The first night of the festival is set to feature the Miss Vietnam of Southern California Pageant. The pageant's primary goal is to elevate the Vietnamese woman as a national symbol of pride and highlight her intellect, beauty and strength, according to the organization's website.

Le said the pageant plays a large role in highlighting these women's contributions to their communities.

There will also be a talent competition, spelling bee, children's pageant, pho-eating contest and performance by the Filharmonic, a group of young Filipino singers who were finalists on NBC's "The Sing-Off."

Those dressed in traditional Vietnamese attire from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday will get in for free, Le said.

Saturday morning will feature an opening ceremony with firecrackers and a lion dance signaling a year full of luck and prosperity, he said.

"It's a way for us to share our culture and let the public see what our Vietnamese culture is like," Pham said.

If You Go

What: Tet Festival of Southern California

When: 3 to 10 p.m. Feb 7; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 8; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 9

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $5, or $1 with OCTA bus pass

Information: tetfestival.org