Tet, or the Asian New Year celebration, occurs halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox usually in the last 10 days of January or the first 20 days of February A festival of purity and renewal, each region and religion adds different customs to the national holiday.
Each year, Vietnamese Catholics in Portland begin the several-day-long celebration with a Lunar New Year Mass at Our Lady of Lavang Church.
Deeds during this time should be well intentioned, and people try to abstain from using bad language or becoming cross with others. Children promise to be obedient and family quarrels are forgotten.
Cleansing occurs in the literal sense as well. People tidy up their homes, and burn incense from ancestral altars to rid the house of bad fortunes associated with the old year.
Children often get new clothes, and wear their best new outfit on the first day of the year.
Yellow apricot flowers and warm peach blossoms symbolize new beginnings and the distinctive flowers are widely sold during the holiday.
Red envelopes filled with money are distributed to the young and elderly, symbolizing luck and wealth. Families make offerings of food, wine, cakes or fruit to honor their ancestors. Usually, a plate with five types of colorful fruits are offered – used often are bananas, lemons, tangerines, Buddha’s hand fruit, persimmons or custard apples.
Bánh chúng, a sticky rice cake with pork and green beans is a traditional treat. Although its labor-intensive preparation can sometimes be a deterrent for modern, busy families.
This Year of the Horse is the seventh in the 12-year cycle of the zodiac on a calendar used by Asian countries. The Horse year is believed to be a fast one, full of conflicts and trifles.
Hundreds gathered Thursday evening for a Mass and celebration at Our Lady of Lavang Church, merging Vietnamese Lunar New Year customs with Catholic tradition and faith.
"My heart is lifted tonight to be with you," said Archbishop Alexander Sample during his homily. "I am struck by how your New Year's celebration is marked by such reverence."
The event marked Archbishop Sample's first Lunar New Year Mass as leader of the church in western Oregon.
The archbishop concelebrated with pastor of Our Lady of Lavang, Domus Dei Father Dat Pham and several other priests of the church, members of the Domus Dei Clerical Society of Apostolic Life, and other visiting clergy.
Before the Mass, the archbishop and his mother Joyce Sample sat in prayer while the sound of a gong and drum rang out throughout the church. Pastoral council member To-Ha Doan spoke over the percussion, remembering Vietnamese martyrs and ancestors with poetry and biblical passages.
Two children from Lavang School where students study languages and the Catholic Catechism stood before the crowd and read a special note they’d written for the archbishop and their community, wishing them health, love and life in the new year. Afterward, children were invited to come forward to collect red envelopes filled with Lì Xì (lucky money) from the archbishop, chancellor Mary Jo Tully and other concelebrating priests.
At the end of Mass, pastoral council members Doan and Francis Pham reminded community members that the New Year celebration is a time to "honor their families, their ancestors and their elders." They also thanked the Hmong and Laotian members for their attendance, and asked for prayers for Southeast Asia.
In the parish hall, dragon dancers kicked off the celebration portion of the night. The crowd cheered in delight as the dragons snaked around the room to the beat of a large drum.
The dragon dance tradition brings prosperity and luck, as well as joy and happiness, say organizers.
Young women and men also entertained the crowds with dances to honor the archbishop.
During the performances, volunteers carried around trays of cookies and plates with servings of bánh chúng. Though the Tet recipe takes more than 10 hours to prepare, parishioners made thousands of the sticky rice cakes for the celebration. Sparkling cider was the drink of choice.
Pastoral council members say the celebration takes about two to three months to prepare, but that all the parish staff and volunteers pitch in to make it such a reverent and joyous event.
For 35 years the parish has marked the New Year this way. Quite a remarkable feat thinks Thanh Tran.
"This parish is so well organized and so great at record keeping that every year it's like clockwork," said Tran, a pastoral council member. "It's monumental how efficient it really is."
"If there's one thing we want people to take home with them after, it's a feeling of family, love and community," said Doan.