Vietnamese New Year a celebration of family

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Two members of the Vietnamese Catholic Community of Nashville present the gifts to Father Hung Pham during a Mass to mark the Vietnamese New Year on Sunday, Jan. 22. The Mass, celebrated in the gymnasium of St. Pius X Classical Academy, was among the activities to mark the start of the lunar new year, which included lunch, music, and games for children. Photos courtesy of St. Pius X

The Vietnamese New Year is an opportunity to celebrate the family. This year, it was an opportunity to bring together as a family the parishioners of St. Pius X Church, the Vietnamese Catholic Community of Nashville, which gathers for Mass at St. Pius each week, and St. Pius X Classical Academy.

“It was my intention that while we celebrated the Vietnamese New Year we could draw more attention to and promote the school and Catholic education,” said Father Hung Pham, the pastor of St. Pius X Church and the leader of the Vietnamese Catholic Community. “It was a chance for more people to know of the school.”

As in most East Asian countries, the people of Vietnam use the lunar calendar to count days and months. This year, the Lunar New Year fell on Sunday, Jan. 22, and the Vietnamese Community hosted a New Year celebration.

The celebration began with Mass in the school gymnasium, which drew between 550 and 600 people, Father Pham said. “It was packed.”

Mass was followed by traditional Vietnamese food, music, and children’s games.

In Vietnam, the New Year celebration lasts about 10 days, and as part of the celebration the Catholic Church offers four important Masses on the last day of the old year and the first three days of the new year, Father Pham explained in a letter to his congregation. The end-of-year Mass is to pray for thanksgiving, the New Year Day Mass to pray for safety, the second day Mass to pray for people’s ancestors, and the third day Mass to sanctify people’s labor and work.

In Vietnam, the New Year celebration is a time to rekindle family relationships and giving thanks to God, said Father Pham, who was born in Vietnam. 

“Living in the states, the Vietnamese community are grateful to God and to the country that provides them with everything to flourish as a person of faith,” Father Pham said in his letter. “In fact, children born in the states have a better opportunity to succeed with western advantages. 

“However, we know we can contribute to the community with something good from the treasure of our Vietnamese heritage,” he added. “Through the Vietnamese New Year celebration, we wish to share our culture with everyone around us. In any relationship, openness and learning from each other will improve the relationship from both sides.”

“Any event the Vietnamese celebrate here in the U.S. reminds people about their culture and their upbringing, their language,” Father Pham told the Tennessee Register. It also strengthens the bonds among the people of the Vietnamese Catholic Community of Nashville who are living far from their home country.

“The reason they come together is to preserve the culture,” Father Pham said. “The Vietnamese culture is more focused on the family. … Not just the small nuclear family,” but the extended family.

“It was a fantastic celebration,” said Liana Baltz, who has been a parishioner at St. Pius since marrying her husband, Billy Baltz, a lifetime member, 35 years ago. “The music was fantastic, the food was good.”

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Baltz said. “I really thanked (Father Pham) for bringing the two cultures together to learn about each other. It was a great experience for St. Pius since we share the church with them.”

The Vietnamese Community moved to St. Pius in 2021 to be more centrally located for the families who gather each week to celebrate Mass in Vietnamese.

Since moving to St. Pius, the community has grown to about 180 families, Father Pham said, and the weekly Masses in Vietnamese draw about 300 people, filling St. Pius X Church. “We have to put more chairs in the back.”

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