By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “It’s nice to celebrate with you finally,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula told the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Jan. 26. “I have only been to a Lunar New Year celebration one time before while a rector in Dubuque.”
At that time, he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque when representatives of Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, invited him to a Lunar New Year celebration. “It was a nice meal,” he said. The celebration at Sacred Heart Cathedral “is way better.” The crowd applauded in the church, along with visiting priests from Divine Word.
The Lunar New Year is a celebration that offers thanks to God, remembers ancestors and shares appreciation for family. Also known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán, it is an important festival for the Vietnamese and people in several other countries in eastern Asia, said Trien Martin Ngo of the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“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.
People celebrate Tết Nguyên Đán the first day of the lunar calendar; the date falls between Jan. 19 and Feb. 20 on the western calendar. The festival’s official start date this year was Jan. 25. 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. Some members of the Vietnamese community wore traditional attire.
Priests of Divine Word College celebrated the Mass, spoken in Vietnamese. They also celebrate Mass in Vietnamese for the community throughout the year. Father Rich Adam, pastor of Sacred Heart, concelebrated the Lunar New Year Mass. Deacons Dan Huber and John Jacobson assisted.
At the end of Mass, people took Scripture verses from ornamental trees with pink and yellow flowers displayed in the sanctuary. A reception afterwards filled the diocesan hall to the brim. Guests ate traditional, homemade Vietnamese food, which the Bishop blessed before joining the line. Guests participated in the lion (dragon) dance and enjoyed traditional dancing and singing.
This year marks the year of the rat, based on the lunar calendar, Ngo said. “People born in the year of the rat have optimism and energy that make them highly likable. Although they are sensitive to the feelings of others, they have high regard for their own opinions. Rats are also seen as symbols of wealth and surplus.”