In the Western world, Christmas and New Year are wonderful occasions for celebrating and gathering with family, relatives and friends. Precious moments are often created around the table, over a shared meal and the swapping of stories from the year gone by. It is a similar experience in the Eastern world when families from Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian backgrounds gather for Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, which marks the first new moon of the lunar calendar.
For the Vietnamese, Lunar New Year, or 'Tet', is one of the most significant events on our calendar for families, for it marks the coming together of generations—both living and deceased. Traditionally (and in non-COVID circumstances!), the Lunar New Year is a time for people to return home to their province or country, to participate in celebrations that often begin days before the actual new year and continue for a few days after. This year the annual Dragon Parade in Melbourne's CBD was cancelled but that didn't stop people celebrating in their own ways with family and friends.
Lunar New Year is a time of great preparation and excitement. Celebrations begin days before the first new moon to allow those who live far from home to return. People who work in the city thus have time to travel to their parents' homes and those living overseas travel home.
The three days in the lead up to the New Year allows us the time to clean our houses in preparation and to throw out old things, mop the floor, fix broken things and buy new items. It also involves cooking traditional food like ‘sticky rice cake’ and decorating the house with flowers and the animal of the year, which in 2021 is the Ox or Buffalo.
During this time people make it a point to visit the cemetery where family members are buried. Tombs or graves are cleaned and decorated with fresh flowers.
On the first day of the new year, my family goes to church early in the morning and then heads to the cemetery to visit the graves of our family members. Later on the whole family gathers for a meal and to wish one another happiness, prosperity and success for the coming year, accompanied by the traditional handing out of the red envelope from the older generation to the younger. The rest of the day is spent playing cards and eating.
The second day is dedicated to our ancestors and deceased members of the family. We usually attend Mass which is held at the cemetery and again visit our family graves to pray for the deceased. The rest of the day includes more card playing and of course more eating!
On the third day, we go to Mass in the morning to pray for the year ahead and also to pray for vocations. From the cemetery, we visit one another’s homes and naturally, time is spent around the table—eating or playing cards!
Various countries and families will have some different ways of celebrating their Lunar New Year, but the most important aspect of the celebration is the time we make for family and friends. Sadly, of course, the pandemic has meant that a lot of families could not gather physically. Nonetheless, I wish everyone who celebrates it a happy Lunar New Year, and I hope that this year of the Ox or Buffalo brings happiness and blessings from our merciful God.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021
Andrew Hamilton SJ22 January 2021