‘A very sacred moment’: Vietnamese Catholic community in Orange County celebrates Lunar New Year

Parishioners gathered at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana on the morning of February 1, some wearing the traditional Vietnamese “Ao Dai” and even more wearing red, the color associated with good luck and prosperity, for a mass celebrating the Tết Lunar New Year.

Parishioners pray during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday, February 1.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange, presided over the Mass which included a large display of firecrackers to ward off evil spirits and an offering to the ancestors.

The Mass was the first of two the Diocese of Orange is holding to honor the Lunar New Year.

Bishop Nguyen will also preside over Mass and offer a special New Year’s Blessing at Our Lady of La Vang Shrine on the campus of Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove on February 5 at 8:30 a.m.

“The Lunar New Year is a very sacred time for the Vietnamese community,” said Bishop Nguyen, who is the second Vietnamese-American in US history to serve as a bishop. “It has a lot of corresponding themes similar to what we celebrate here in the United States.”

Tết is an abbreviation of Tết Nguyên Đán, which means the first morning of the first day of the first period. The celebration usually lasts three days.

“On the first day, we pray for peace,” Bishop Nguyen said. “On the second day of Tết, we pray for our ancestors, to remind us to show respect and care for our parents and grandparents. On the third day of Tết, we pray for good jobs.

A parishioner prays during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana.

A parishioner prays during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday, February 1.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

The Tết festival not only marks the New Year, but celebrates the symbiotic relationship between all things and honors the peaceful relationship between the creator and human beings. Bishop Nguyen said Tết is also a time to give thanks and a time to correct mistakes.

“But I think the most important thing for our Christian faith is that Tết is a time to renew our trust in the Lord,” Bishop Nguyen said.

Hundreds of firecrackers go off to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Hundreds of firecrackers go off to celebrate the Lunar New Year during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana on February 1.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

The Mass celebrated these themes in several ways.

“You will see the Mass unfold today which we call the traditional offering to the ancestors,” Bishop Nguyen said.

Trays of fruit symbolizing prosperity were laid out for the ancestors as a sign of gratitude. The importance of family was demonstrated by the groups of parents, grandparents and young children gathered in the outdoor pavilion of the Vietnamese Catholic Center.

Parishioners also prayed for peace and relief from the suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a theme Bishop Nguyen said he plans to put at the center of his homily.

“Last year we faced COVID and worries and anxieties etc., so we need peace,” Bishop Nguyen said. “This is what we need for the whole year, and this is what I would pray for the Vietnamese community and for everyone. To have peace throughout the year.”

Parishioners attend a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana.

Parishioners attend a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana to celebrate the Lunar New Year on February 1.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

On the first morning of Tết, adults celebrate the New Year by presenting children with red envelopes that contain “lucky money”, or lì xì. Red envelopes hung from the branches of the cherry trees in the center, which also have special significance for the holiday. Since the Tết festival takes place during Vietnam’s spring season, flower displays are used to symbolize a new beginning. Cherry blossoms, May yellow flowering trees and orchids are popular for the holidays.

Parishioners plug their ears as firecrackers go off during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana.

Parishioners plug their ears as firecrackers go off during a mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

Rows of red firecrackers sent smoke into the air as parishioners gathered to view the display, some covering their ears. The loud bang is said to not only ward off negative energy, but is intended as a party sound to spark joy.

“It is a festive celebration that comes from the heart,” Bishop Nguyen said. “Very festive and very happy.”

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