One of the perks of being a young person of Vietnamese descent has always been the joy of having two new years to celebrate annually – one with my friends, and the other with family.
The Vietnamese people historically welcome New Year, which we call Tết Nguyên Đán, according to the lunar calendar.
My family’s celebrations are grounded in the activities of the community parish to which we belong. And so it is the same this year.
Like Christmas and Easter, I returned to my family’s parish to attend New Year’s Eve Mass with my parents. It is a time for thanksgiving.
We were cautioned to allow ample time for parking as big holidays often meant standing room only and limited parking space.
Footpaths leading into the church courtyard were dotted with the young adults, the young-at-heart, the elderly and children in colorful traditional áo dài.
Tết is a time to pay respect to one’s elders, one’s ancestors, and one’s history. For Vietnamese Catholics, it is also a time to start again with God – we have three consecutive “big” Masses on the first three days of the new year; the First to pray for our homeland and also the country in which we now call home, the Second to pray for our parents and ancestors, and the Third to sanctify our work for the year.
Afterwards, most would gather in their respective homes and have a big feast with the oldest living relative, usually grandparents, and wish them good health.
There is also special savory rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves that are eaten at this time.
Tết is a returning home.
And so, every New Year’s Mass we are blessed to have the relics of the Vietnamese Martyrs displayed for veneration.
The more grown I become and the more people from different walks of life I encounter, the more I grow in appreciation of my heritage and culture. I return home to the crib of my faith, I return to my first evangelizers, my parents and grandparents, and I am reminded that the foundation of the graces given to me by God are through the merits of the Vietnamese saints and martyrs.
As Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
There is still much I do not know about the history and culture of my ancestors but with every year, I am thankful to live it more deeply.
My prayer is to not squander the graces and to live every moment of the New Year well.