GREETINGS OF CHÚC MỪNG NĂM MỚI will be heard at St. Boniface Parish when the Vietnamese community gathers on Feb. 3 for the annual celebration of Tet Nguyen Dan, also called Tet, which is the most important — and longest — holiday and festival in Vietnam. The Tet observance this year will be Feb. 4-10. It is the beginning of thelunarNew Year, which is an important event in Asian culture. The celebration can last as long as seven to nine days. The first day of the Year of the Pig is Feb. 5.
The local event will begin with Mass at 10 a.m. at St. Boniface Parish, 3545 W. 54th St., Cleveland, followed by a celebration in the parish hall. It is organized by the Vietnamese-American Apostolate. Father Hilary Khanh Hai Nguyen, St. Boniface pastor, oversees the apostolate, which is part of the Asian Catholic Ministry directed by Sister Rita Mary Harwood, who heads the Diocese of Cleveland’s Parish Life Office.
Many women will wear ao dai, a long, slim silk tunic over pants, in a variety of bright colors. Some also will wear matching turban-style hats. Red and yellow are among the most popular colors since Vietnamese believe these colors bring good fortune.
Nhiem Nguyen of St. Boniface Parish said planning is under way for the annual Tet celebration, which has taken place in the diocese since the late 1970s, when the Vietnamese community gathered at St. Stephen’s Church on Cleveland’s West Side. In the 1990s, St. Boniface became the spiritual home of the local Vietnamese Catholic community. Last year, Bishop Nelson Perez was the celebrant for the liturgy. Nhiem said he was invited again this year, but they are not certain if his schedule will allow him to be there.
As is traditional, a gong and drum will signal the start of the liturgy for the Tet celebration. Nhiem said a special entrance song will be sung by the choir and congregation. Parts of the Mass also will be in the Vietnamese language. The church traditionally is decorated with brightly colored banners, flowers and a display of fruit and other symbolic items in front of the altar.
After the homily, members of the congregation come forward to receive lộc thánh (holy fortune) envelopes that include special Bible verses or phrases encouraging them to be good Catholics. “After the New Year Mass, we will gather at St. Boniface School hall for a music program and a meal. There will be dragon dance, raffle drawings and giving lucky money to children during
the celebration,” Nhiem said.
Among the special foods for Tet are bánh chưng (sweet rice cake), xôi gấc (gac flavored sweet rice), chả giò (fried spring roll) and giò lụa (pork ham). Nhiem said the planning committee will finalize the menu soon.
Tet takes place from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which usually is in late January or early February. It lasts at least three days. Many Vietnamese prepare special foods and thoroughly clean their houses for the occasion. There are customs, including visiting the homes of family and friends on the first day of the new year, sharing new year greetings and giving lucky money. It also is an occasion for family reunions and forgetting the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better year ahead.