Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year

Three representatives of the Vietnamese Catholic Community offer watermelon, incense and Vietnamese cake during a ceremony for the Lunar New Year Feb. 14. The incense symbolizes respect; watermelon and stick rice cake symbolize the work and labor of humans. (Photo by Anne Marie Amacher)

By Anne Marie Amacher

DAVENPORT — The Vietnamese Lunar New Year, which began Feb. 14, is the most important festival for the Vietnamese people, says Father Hai Dinh, a native of Vietnam.

Festivities for the new year, also called “tet,” last three days or more in Vietnam. It is a time to be with family, pay respect to ancestors and elders, and celebrate with food, drink and social activities.

“Tet is an opportunity (in spirit) to invite and welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants,” said Fr. Dinh, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

 A dinner of traditional Vietnamese foods is served, such as bánh chung (a square cake made of sticky rice stuffed with beans and pork), mãng (a soup of boiled bamboo shoots and fried pork) and xôi gac (orange sticky rice). This is followed by a visit to the local churches or pagodas.


In preparation for the festivities, Fr. Dinh said families buy new clothing, clean their homes, settle debts, visit friends and stock up on items for tet. New Year’s Eve (Giao Thua) is considered a sacred time — the passage from the old to the New Year, he said. Families make offerings and pray for a good new year. Most Vietnamese families in the U.S. set up tables on which they place traditional food or their ancestor’s favorite food on New Year’s Eve. Then they “invite” their ancestors to join them to celebrate the New Year. “By doing that, they believe that their ancestors would come back and stay with them during the celebration,” Fr. Dinh said.

This year, Vietnamese Catholics of Sacred Heart Cathedral had a rite of inviting ancestors to join them for the New Year. The rite was held at 11:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in Denning Hall at St. Paul the Apostle Parish. A countdown to the New Year followed. Lunar New Year 2010 is the year of the tiger. It is a sign of courage.

The Vietnamese Catholics then gathered again at 2 p.m. Feb. 14 to celebrate Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church. At the conclusion of Mass, a tree with replicas of traditional flowers of Vietnam was brought out that contained Scripture readings tied to the tree. Parishioners chose a reading from the tree for their families to follow throughout the next year.

Bishop Martin Amos attended the Mass and reception.

A reception was held afterward in Denning Hall. The celebration began with the national anthems of Vietnam and the United States. A ceremony honoring ancestors was held. Other activities included a dragon dance, giving “lucky money” to children, singing and dancing and serving traditional Vietnamese foods.

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