Advent traditions around the world: memories of Vietnam

Contributed
Members of the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport listen during an Advent retreat in 2018.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Her memories of Vietnam are limited, but Thao Dang remembers how people prepared for the coming of baby Jesus during Advent by displaying nativity scenes.
“Almost every Catholic household had a display of a nativity scene in their house or in front of their house. I remember many times I was mesmerized by the different colors of lights on both sides of the streets.”

Dang said people who lived on busier streets in larger towns tended to have the larger outdoor displays. Even smaller-sized displays, similar to the ones put up inside the home, would be placed outside.

“Besides preparing their home, the people also prepared their soul by going to Mass more frequently as well as attending retreats and confession.”

In the U.S., Dang noted the Vietnamese Catholic community is small. Families display nativity scenes mostly inside their homes. However, the tradition of a retreat continues at the Vietnamese community’s home parish of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

Catholics had more opportunities for Mass, multiple retreats and confession in Vietnam, Dang said. In the Quad Cities, “most of the adults are working Monday through Saturday and have Sunday off. Therefore, it is more feasible for them to get together at church on Sunday.”

On one Sunday during Advent, the Vietnamese community holds a retreat at the cathedral, followed by Mass in Vietnamese. Young and older parishioners attend, Dang said. Children participate in special activities downstairs so the adults can reflect during the retreat. Children’s activities usually are led in English because the children know more English, Dang noted.

The Vietnamese Catholics would love to have more retreats but are grateful for priests from the Dubuque area that speak Vietnamese and travel to Davenport for the annual retreat at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Dang said. The retreat always ties in with Advent and waiting, but the priests change it up every year. This year’s retreat takes place Dec. 1.

Another tradition in her homeland and in the U.S. is to encourage participation in acts of goodwill such as visiting the sick and elderly.

As for Dang, during Advent she plans to make time to reflect and give thanks to God for everything he has given her. She also does penance “for the things I’ve done wrong.”

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