Vietnamese New Year Honors Family

BRIDGEPORT—Children, parents, grandparents, extended family and friends filled St. Augustine Cathedral on February 15 as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano joined the Vietnamese community in welcoming the Vietnamese New Year. “This is the most important holiday of the year for our culture,” says Father Augustine Nguyen, episcopal vicar for Vietnamese in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“It’s a family-oriented celebration, a time to remember our ancestors and also a time for children to honor the sacrifices their parents have made for their well-being.”

The Vietnamese New Year, in common with similar celebrations in China and in other Asian cultures, is based on the lunar/solar calendar. Officially named Tết Nguyên Đán “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day,” the celebration usually continues for the better part of the week.
The Mass and reception at the Cathedral was held a few days before the actual start of the Lunar New Year, which fell on February 18, Ash Wednesday, this year.

Preparation for the New Year may include energetically cleaning the house, preparing special holiday foods, buying new clothes for the children and giving them “lucky money.”

Visiting relatives and close family friends is the most important aspect of the feast. “This is a time to honor parents and family and those who have gone before us,” said Bishop Caggiano in his homily. “We pray for them, and they are certainly praying for us.”

The bishop spoke of the devotion and strong faith of Vietnamese Catholics. He reminded the congregation of the dedication of parents who had brought their children into the faith. “So now we gather before this altar, part of a wider family in God our father.”

Last year, Father Nguyen spent the New Year holiday with his parents in Vietnam. “I was surrounded by flowers of every color, pink and red and yellow—everything you can think of. Today,” he waved his hand toward the huge snowbanks outside, “we are surrounded by white ‘flowers.’”

With a smile, he invited the bishop to observe next year’s festival in Vietnam, where it celebrates the beginning of spring rather than the deep midwinter. The flower-filled altar, along with the lively pastels and deep hues of the women’s “ao dai,” the elegant traditional Vietnamese dress, recall the rich colors of the beginning of the spring season.

The reception following the Mass was enlivened by energetic dragons, special seasonal food, and award-winning young dancers. The Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth group, over 100 youngsters, teens and young adults, were fresh from a competition including the entire Northeast, from Buffalo to New York City and east to Maine. Every group performed a dance with a Lunar New Year theme in a combination of traditional and modern music.

The group from St. Augustine had received four out of the five first-place trophies for their dance: people choice, best costume design, best choreography, and first place overall. Their energy and enthusiasm warmed the winter day, replacing the deep winter outside with the promise of springtime to come.