Vietnamese over the moon for Lunar New Year

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT – Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short, is considered the biggest and most popular festival of the year in Vietnam, said Trien Martin Ngo of the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

This year’s celebration was held Feb. 25 at the cathedral, a week later than the New Year to accommodate the diocesan Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion held Feb. 18.

Anne Marie Amacher
Girls dance to a traditional Vietnamese song during a reception for the Lunar New Year Feb. 15 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

The Vietnamese community gathered for Mass celebrated in Vietnamese by Father Hai Dinh, parochial vicar of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine. Concelebrating the Mass were Father Rich Adam, the cathedral’s pastor and rector, and priests from Divine Word College in Epworth.

Many in the congregation wore traditional Vietnamese clothing for the celebration, featuring bright colors. “Lucky money” (an envelope containing a $1 bill) was distributed to children at the end of Mass. After Mass, the congregation was invited to take a small scroll of a Scripture reading in Vietnamese from bright-colored trees in the sanctuary.

A standing-room-only reception followed in the new parish hall. Vietnamese foods were served, Divine Word College students performed a dragon dance, and parishioners danced and sang throughout the afternoon.

Ngo said the New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first month in the Lunar calendar. “Tet is the occasion for Vietnamese to express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors as well as welcoming the New Year with their beloved family members. To make it easier, one can imagine Tet as a combination of Christmas and New Year: every family will get together to have big meals, decorate the house and Tet trees and eat Tet food.

Anne Marie Amacher
A woman takes a Scripture reading off a decorative tree following Mass celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year on Feb. 25 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

“In an effort to get rid of the bad luck of the old year, people will spend a few days cleaning their homes, polishing every utensil, or even repaint and decorate the house with kumquat trees, branches of peach blossom and many other colorful flowers. The ancestral altar is especially taken care of, with careful decoration of five kinds of fruits and votive papers, along with many religious rituals. Everybody, especially children, buys new clothes and shoes to wear on the first days of New Year. People also try to pay all their pending debts and resolve all the arguments among colleagues, friends or members of family.”

Tet is celebrated throughout many countries in Asia and not just by Catholics. In Vietnam, it is the longest holiday, lasting up to seven days. “Vietnamese believe that the color of red and yellow will bring good fortune, which may explain why these colors can be seen everywhere in Lunar New Year,” Ngo said. “People consider (that) what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, hence people always smile and behave as nice as they can in the hope for a better year. Besides, gifts are exchanged between family members and friends and relatives, while children receive lucky money kept in a red envelope.

“In the U.S., we try to keep it as traditional as possible, as in Vietnam.” However, the time is shortened because of work schedules and school.
Fr. Dinh said the celebration at the cathedral and in its hall was “wonderful. This was perfect and God’s blessing…. We come together as a community, parish and diocese.”

A Vietnamese woman said the Mass and celebration were amazing and brought together many traditions.

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