Vietnamese Catholics celebrate Lunar New Year

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Vietnamese Catholics gathered Feb. 3 to celebrate the Lunar New Year at Sacred Heart Cathedral where they gave thanks to God, remembered their ancestors and shared appreciation for family.

Anne Marie Amacher
A woman takes a Scripture reading from a flowered tree following Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport on Feb. 3. The Vietnamese Catholic community celebrated the Lunar New Year that day.

The Lunar New Year, also known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán, is an important festival for the Vietnamese people and several other countries in eastern Asia, said Trien Martin Ngo, speaking for the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The official starting date is Feb. 5, but Viet-namese Catholics in the Davenport Diocese celebrated two days early with Mass and a reception.

“Tết is a celebration of the arrival of spring and an occasion to pay respects to one’s ancestors. It is also a great opportunity for family to come together. Family members will return to their homeland for a reunion and to savor the flavors of the holiday,” Ngo said.

Tết Nguyên Đán is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar; the date falls between Jan. 19 and Feb. 20 on the western calendar. Festivities traditionally take up to three days in the United States and much longer in Vietnam.

“It is a month-long celebration, a comprehensive holiday which Vietnamese enthusiastically embrace. Vietnamese, living in the United States and elsewhere, remain very emotionally tied to celebrating Tết. It is the central festival in Vietnam and, for even the most acculturated Vietnamese settled in other countries, it remains the major occasion on which to celebrate their Vietnamese heritage,” Ngo said.

The daylong celebration at the cathedral began with Mass. “Every year we will try to do something a bit different. This year, the children were in charge of most of the Mass, except the music.” Many members of the Vietnamese community wore traditional attire.

At the end of Mass, people took Scripture verses from ornamental trees displayed in the sanctuary. A reception followed in the diocesan hall where guests ate traditional, homemade Vietnamese food, participated in the lion (dragon) dance, and enjoyed traditional dancing and singing.

Each year’s celebration features an animal symbol; this year it is the pig. “Pigs are diligent, compassionate and generous,” Ngo said. “They have great concentration. Once they set a goal, they will devote all their energy to achieving it. Though pigs rarely seek help from others, they will not refuse to give others a hand. Pigs never suspect trickery, so they are easily fooled.” Pigs are relatively calm when facing trouble, he said. “They can handle things properly and carefully. They have a great sense of responsibility to finish what they are engaged in.”

Here are some must-dos to celebrate a perfect Vietnamese Lunar New Year, says Ngo.

• Mâm Ngũ Quả (The five-fruit tray) symbolizes the family’s respect for their ancestors and their wishes for the New Year.

• Hoa Đào and Hoa Mai (The planting of peach or apricot trees): During Tết people think certain flowers will bring them happiness and luck in the New Year. People buy peach flowers (in the north) and apricot flowers (in the south) to decorate their homes.

• Bánh Tét – Bánh Chưng (Cylindrical cake – square cake): Since wet rice is farmed in Vietnam, many traditional Vietnamese cakes are made from it. Bánh chưng and bánh tét cakes are made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork and are an essential food for the Lunar New Year. The cake’s colors symbolize earth and sky.

• Bánh Mứt (Candied fruit): The mứt is traditionally offered to guests when they arrive at a home as a greeting and to convey hope for a happy new year.

• Lì Xì (Lucky money in red envelopes): On the first day of New Year, the whole family dresses up and gets together to offer greetings and wishes to one another. The eldest family members give red envelopes to the children and young adults while advising them about life, school and work. Red envelopes symbolize hopes for prosperity for the youngest family members. In turn, the youths express good luck, success and good health in the New Year to their elders.

• Bữa Cơm Đầu Năm (First meal of the year): The Vietnamese believe that Tết is meant for getting together with family and friends. Family members will return to their homelands, even if they’ve been living far away from home for a long time.

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