In the U.S., people typically culminate the holiday season with New Year’s Day, but in Asian cultures, the Lunar New Year — which falls on February 12th this year — is the most important and festive celebration of the year observed by 1.5 billion worldwide. And, if you’ve been binge-watching the first season of House of Ho like the rest of us at Sunday Riley HQ, you saw just how ornate and elaborate the holiday could be in Vietnamese culture.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the show, here’s the ho-down (sorry, we had to). House of Ho is a docu-series based in Houston, Texas that chronicles three generations of the Vietnamese-American Ho family’s opulent lifestyle. It’s a rags-to-riches story full of drama, fashion, and lavish living. Think of the reality TV show as Keeping up with the Kardashians meets Crazy Rich Asians.
The series opens up to the entire Ho family cooking classic Vietnamese dishes on a typical Sunday after church. Family meals, after all, are an expected and engrained part of Vietnamese culture. So, it’s not surprising that the Lunar New Year is referred to as “Tết Nguyên Đán” (“Tết” for short) in Vietnamese and translates to “eating the New Year” — revolving heavily around uniting together with family and friends around food.
As we look forward to the Lunar New Year just around the corner, we sat down with Judy, our favorite castmate from the show. This year, the Chinese zodiac animal is the Metal Ox: “The ox means ‘stubbornness,’ but to me, it means perseverance. I hope to persevere and reclaim this chapter in my life,” she says. She dishes on her secrets of throwing a great New Year party, family, love — and everything in between.
Sunday Edit: Your parents, Binh and Hue Ho, were refugees from Vietnam. What were some family traditions that they tried to preserve after they moved to the US?
Judy Ho: My parents tried to preserve our Vietnamese heritage by insisting we speak Vietnamese at home, follow traditional rules in greeting our elders, and celebrate traditional holidays such as Lunar New Year. I didn’t grow up rich, so our gatherings were more simple and less extravagant but celebrated with the same joy and love.
SE: In the show, you had a beautiful Lunar New Year celebration in your new house in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood. Where will you celebrate this Lunar New Year – in your place or at your parents’?
JH: We will be celebrating Lunar New Year at my home again this year. We will have the traditional sticky rice cake called bánh tét, a whole roast pig, and trays of candied fruit and melon seeds.
SE: What is the secret of the best Lunar New Year party?
JH: The secret is to work with vendors who share the same vision as you and are able to execute with unyielding attention to details. I’ve worked with Phuong Nguyen from Mibellarosa, a floral and event design studio, for years. Her inspiration for colors was inspired by my kids’ playroom (reds and rich pinks with pops of yellow and gold elements for accent for a fun, festive, and luxe look). For flowers, flowering branches such as pink quince and yellow forsythia are staples for Vietnamese families during Lunar New Year since that is what is in bloom during Tết in Vietnam.
SE: When you wake up this Lunar New Year Day, what will be the first thing that you will do?
JH: I will wake up with gratitude for the health of my family. The most challenging experience for me in 2020 was wrapping up my divorce and navigating the changes with the pandemic. I have this quote on my Instagram: “Every next level of your life will demand a different version of you.”
SE: What are you planning to wear?
JH: An áo dài or a red dress. In Houston, Danny Nguyen custom designs my áo dài as seen on the Lunar New Year episode on the show. My favorite Vietnamese fashion designer is Nguyen Cong Tri. It would be a dream to wear one of his creations. His designs have been seen on both Beyoncé and Michelle Obama.
SE: What’s your usual beauty routine?
JH: I like getting a microdermabrasion treatment or Hydrafacial once a month. I have combination skin and like to use Sunday Riley Good Genes as part of my nighttime routine. I’ve been using it for about a year and have noticed a difference in the overall radiance of my skin. I’m also a fan of the Sunday Riley CEO Vitamin C Serum as part of my morning skin routine.
My favorite shampoo and conditioner are Aveda Shampure, which I’ve been using since college. I use Jergens Body Lotion — there’s just something about that cherry almond scent. During quarantine, I’ve been doing more masks at home instead of visiting the spa, but my favorite spas are milk + honey and Post Oak Hotel Spa in Houston.
SE: Houston has the third-largest Vietnamese population in the U.S. You called the show ‘a love letter to Houston’ and showed Houston as a beautiful, modern, and diverse city. How is Houston different from other U.S. cities for you?
JH: Well I lived in Atlanta for college and Boston for law school, so what makes Houston stand out to me is the warmth of the people in Houston. Houstonians are welcoming and inclusive by nature. The diversity in cultures and the vibrant restaurant scene showcased on the show were all reflective of that spirit.
SE: How do you feel when some people compare your family and show to the movie Crazy Rich Asians? (Fun fact: Crazy Rich Asians’ author Kevin Kwan is also a Houstonian.) Did you like the movie?
JH: I did enjoy the movie, but I actually liked the books more. The history and emotions of the characters were so vivid in my mind when I read the book; somehow it was even more glorious in my head than what was portrayed in the movie. I’m ecstatic for any kind of Asian representation in mainstream media. The little girl in me never thought I would see characters who looked like me in books, TV, or movies.
SE: After viewing the show, do your parents still hold onto the rooted traditional Vietnamese values or have they become slightly more liberal?
JH: My parents will always remain rooted in traditional Vietnamese values. Reality show or not!
SE: In the show, you talk a lot about the challenges of being a woman in a patriarchal culture and the pressure of your role in the family as a chị hai, the oldest sister. What does it mean in Vietnamese culture?
JH: I am expected to set a good example for my brothers, to help them in any way that I can and to be available to my parents for whatever it is that they may need. It is a sense of duty and obligation to my family that sometimes requires me to sacrifice my own needs and desires for their sake. When I was young, I never questioned my role and simply did everything I was asked because I loved my family so much. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become harder because now I’m a single mom of three young children and I’ve realized that I also need to take care of myself before I can tend to everyone else. I’m grateful for the messages from other people who can relate to my story. I hear from other divorced moms or single moms who share encouraging advice and Vietnamese females who have been in my exact situation with their parents who are also able to empathize.
SE: Finally, should we expect a wedding in Season 2?
JH: Fingers crossed.
House Of Ho is available for streaming on HBO MAX.
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