This is no ordinary Thursday. For millions of people around the world, it's New Year's Day. The beginning of Year 4679 on the lunar calendar.

In Norther Virginia, the celebrations began at midnight yesterday as Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean families ushered in the Year of the Rooster.

Lieu Band and his wife Hong, of Alexandria, laugh and give each other sidelong glances as they tell a visitor they were born under the sign of the rooster.

"The rooster is self-supporting," says Lieu, whose family is Chinese. "Anybody who is born under the rooster year doesn't need anybody's help That's why I'm independent. I was self-supporting at age 17."

That resilience has taken Lieu from the chaos of Saigon to Alexandria, where he and his extended family of 13 started this new year with the customary meal of "all the fanciest dishes," including nin kao, the sweet rice cakes that promise good luck.

The feast is laid out in front of an "ancestral table," a high-standing structure covered in red silk and illumined by red candles. The table, Lieu said, "is for remembering our family from generation to generation."

On the walls around the table are red new year's banners with Chinese inscriptions wishing visitors "Luck from the coming spring, No sickness all year round, The health of a dragon and a horse."

On New Year's Day, Chinese custom dictates a frenzy of visiting from one home to another. But it's the very first visitor to a household, the "song dat," who carries a special significance. That person is thought to determine the nature of a family's luck for the coming year.

"We expect the first person to come through our door to be a man," Lieu said. "That would be lucky. If two children, a brother and a sister, go visiting, the brother would go into the house first."

Red is a color that transcends New Year celebrations for Chinese and Vietnamese families. Red watermelon seeds and coconut candy are omnipresent both celebrations, as are "hong bao," small red envelopes filled with money for children.

For the Vietnamese community, as for the chinese, the New Year is a time for remembering.

Nguyen Van Xe, for example, now works for the Joint Committee on Taxation on Capitol Hill, analyzing computer data that help determine how tax laws ultimately turn out. But the beginning of Tet, as the Vietnamese call the new year, brings Nguyen a tender homesickness for his native country, where his 5-year-old son still remains with Nguyen's mother.

"Where we celebrate Tet, I think back to what's gone on, and I think about the future," Nguyen said. "But one thing I know is we cannot go home soon. We have to think about our children, about improving our economic situation. But I miss my country very much every time Tet comes."

Lien Chu of Annandale has shown several times over his ability to pick up where the war left off and start anew. He came with four generations of his family to a Tet fair in Fairfax County, where he was proud to represent the Vietnamese Senior Citizens Association, of which he is president.

"(The association) has 456 members in the United States, France, Germany, Australia and Africa," Lien said. "When we started, we were suffering. It's difficult to start a new life. The association is a way to understand America. The target, the aim of the association is to gather every Vietnamese whose age is 50 or over to meet every month, to remember the customs and the ceremonies."

Giang Vinh Hue, a Fairfax resident, brought his six children to the Tet fair to help instill in them a sense of tradition.

"It's a good time to remember," said Giang. "Even if now I live in The U.S., I still keep our customs. This is an opportunity to bring the kids and remind them, before they're Americanized."

Sukhee Werner, who owns a Korean restaurant in Arlington, came to this country from Seoul 11 years ago, shortly after his marriage to an American Army lawyer. While Korean families observe many of the traditions seen in the Chinese and Vietnamese communities, Werner says, the younger generation often participates in American holidays as well.

"The new year is the most popular day for the (Korean) family," Werner said. "A lot of people are falling into American holidays, but lots of people still go visiting on the new year. Although a lot of children wear Western clothes, on New Year's Day they dress in native Korean dress."

Werner's parents followed her to Arlington from Korea, and she said they now feel the United States is their home.

"My parents got homesick at first, but I told them, 'Wait a couple of years, you'll like it,'" she recalled. "Then they went to visit (Korea) for a month. Now they don't want to live there, only visit."

It is the mixture of American and Oriental, the "melting pot," that many in the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities say give the new year in America its bittersweet meaning.

Truong Duc Chinh, who attended the Tet fair, put a new twist on the "melting pot" idea when he explained the mixture of Vietnamese and American culture.

"I think of the United States as a bouquet of flowers," Truong said. "Vietnamese would like to be one of the flowers. Our young generation will be American citizens. They will work for this country, the will fight for this country. We want to join our country to yours as in a bouquet of flowers."