By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT – As the Catholic Church celebrated the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2, the Vietnamese Catholic community added a cultural touch by celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Father Hai Dinh, a native of Vietnam, celebrated the Mass in Vietnamese at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Vietnamese celebrate Mass once a month in Vietnamese since the departure of former parochial vicar Father Joseph Nguyen to another diocese.
The Lunar New Year to the Vietnamese is “a time for family reunions, remembering ancestors, preparing traditional foods to share with others, visiting relatives, wishing friends the best, forgetting about troubles of the past and hoping for a fruitful year,” said Fr. Dinh, parochial vicar at Ss. John & Paul Parish Burlington.
During his homily, presented in Vietnamese and then in English, Fr. Dinh spoke of how Jesus came to save all through his self-sacrifice. Coming together as a Vietnamese community to celebrate the holy Eucharist is a way to give thanks to God for the past year.
In celebrating the Lunar New Year, Fr. Dinh asked that God grant the community faith, hope, love and prosperity and to bless family and friends in this Year of the Horse.
Bishop Martin Amos, in attendance at the Mass, offered the final blessing and wished the Vietnamese a blessed year and good health. “May God’s grace be with you.”
The bishop, Father Rich Adam (the cathedral’s rector and pastor), Fr. Dinh and Deacon Dave Huber distributed “lucky” money to children afterwards.
Intercessions to Mary were prayed in the vestibule. The community then returned to the sanctuary to take Scripture verses that had been attached to flowering trees. The bishop and priests made themselves available to bless throats for the Feast of St. Blaise (celebrated Feb. 3).
Don Le, a member of the Vietnamese community, said the Lunar New Year follows the traditions of his grandparents and ancestors before them. “The generations keep this going. It is part of our culture.” The first day of Lunar New Year “we pray for our ancestors, health and jobs. Hopefully we will have luck through the year.”
Lien Truong, the cathedral’s Vietnamese assistant, said that in Vietnam the Lunar New Year “is the only time that the working people will take at least three days to celebrate. Businesses in the entire country, cities, towns and villages will close for this occasion. During these three days, most people will visit temples, churches or the altar at home to give thanks to God, to offer memorial prayers to their ancestors and to pray for a more prosperous new year.
“This is also the time for families to be reunited, to visit each other, to give each other food, to wish each other well and to get acquainted with new additional family members as families do grow larger.”
Children receive new clothing to wear and a new dollar bill, placed in a red envelope, to spend later.
Special cakes made of sticky rice, mung bean and pork are prepared in two shapes: square (Bánh Chưng) and round (Bánh Dầy). “In the ancient time, the square cake represents the earth and the round cake represents the moon.”
As a generation passes on, the round cake in some regions has turned into a log, called Bánh Tét.
Overall, much of the Lunar New Year is celebrated the same, but on a smaller scale in the U.S., Truong said. “Of course the entire U.S. business does not close for three days. This would drive the economy down. But the Vietnamese and the Asians do keep their tradition.”