Millions all over the world are celebrating the Lunar New Year today and over the next 14 days. This is a time for family reunions and visiting friends and relatives, akin to Thanksgiving or Christmas even among non-Christians in the U.S.
For Catholics in Asia, the Lunar New Year is celebrated almost as if it were a Feast day. Many go to Mass the night before or the morning of the first day to give thanks to God and celebrate the New Year with God’s blessings. In the Catholic context, symbols and themes of the festival, including the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, are often inculturated in homilies and through the giving of blessed symbolic objects after Mass.
The Malaysian news reports that Archbishop John Wong of Sabah, Malaysia, for instance, reminds his flock that the pursuit of Spiritual wealth is more important than material wealth which is often emphasized in traditional celebrations. In Singapore, Archbishop William Goh brings his people’s attention to what the way in which the “newness” that comes with celebrating the festival—new clothes, new looks, new curtains—as symbolic of starting anew is superficial when we don’t realize that we live in the Lord’s love and for others every day. UCANews reports that in Vietnam, where the Lunar New Year is also known as Tet, Bishop Joseph Dinh Duc Dao, sidesteps the traditionally held personal characteristics of someone born in the year of the pig as loyal, good-tempered and honest, and preaches on the pig as an animal that brings people together when served at large celebrations as it is often done in the country, urging them to come together for the common good. The bishops of Vietnam have also asked Catholics to pray for the nation of the first day, and their ancestors on the second.
After Mass, it is common to see presentations of lion and dragon dances as seen above at a parish in the Philippines. These dances accompanied by loud drums and cymbals were traditionally perceived as a way to frighten bad spirits away but are now often enjoyed by all as entertainment and symbols of joy in the coming year. In some parishes in Asia, blessed tangerines are also handed out after Masses. In Mandarin, the word “tangerine” sounds similar to “luck.” It is therefore common to have an abundance of tangerines over the Lunar New Year season at home.