CHINESE LUNAR NEW YEAR ~ CHICAGO STYLE
In recent weeks Asians around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year which lasts two weeks and the Asian students at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) took advantage of the some of the local festivities to also celebrate. My classmates in the Institute of Religious Formation at CTU and I got in on some of these celebrations.
There is a rather large group of Asian students in formation at the SVD (Society of the Divine Word) here in Chicago, 36 of them to be exact. Most of them attend CTU. Their formation house has three floors and there are 12 students per floor. Every year they put on a very elaborate party to celebrate the lunar new year and invite ALL their friends and fellow students. My classmates and I were invited to join them on Friday evening 10 days ago for Eucharist, followed by a banquet. We were thankful that we arrived a little early because as we waited for the beginning of the Eucharist the chapel filled up to overflowing, i.e. standing room only! The house was decorated for the occasion and, of course, that included the chapel. The presider was a young Chinese priest wearing a stunning vestment in red and gold. I find Chinese liturgical music quite melodius and much of the music at the Eucharist that evening was in Chinese. Many of the attendees were young people we knew either from our classes or students who live in our residence. The banquet after Eucharist included about 15 different Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. One would think that with that crowd we would have to eat standing up but several rooms in this very large residence were designated for eating the delicious meal. Another sister and I were probably the first to leave the party at about 8 p.m. and as we were leaving we were told that the evening was only beginning! Apparently the tradition is that there is dancing and games until midnight.
We had the chance to attend one more party that weekend. On Sunday we were invited to join our classmate, Jia Qin (Gia cheen), a sister from China, for the yearly celebration in Chinatown. We joined her for Eucharist presided by an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Bishop Rojas. The morning at church began with firecrackers outside the church door - lots of them and VERY loud - and a dragon parading up and down the aisles, the dragon was followed by the snake (it is the year of the snake), who also weaved back and forth up and down the aisles. A small group of young girls of Indonesian descent danced for us, then it was time for the Eucharist to begin. Again there was standing room only in the church and again we were glad to have arrived early. At the end of Eucharist and before the bishop gave his final blessing we were told about a ritual for the remembrance of our ancestors that we were all invited to participate in. We walked up the center aisle to a table specially decorated for this ritual. As each one of us arrived at the table we were given an incense stick which we left at the altar while at the same time remembering and praying to our loved ones who have gone before us.
The banquet was served in the church basement and that was almost standing room only. There were many delicious dishes just like Friday evening, and enough food for all of us - I wonder if the cooks prayed for a miracle, e.g. the multiplication of the rice and shrimp, when they saw the multitude filling the hall. In the end the actual serving of the food went very quickly and there was plenty to go around - each of us received two shrimp.
The day wasn't over . . . we left the church and made our way to the main street of Chinatown for the annual parade. It was a good thing that it was sunny and that there was no wind but it was cold. There were firecrackers again set off at strategic places along the parade route, several dragons and snakes and four marching bands. We had a wonderful day but were glad to get home and warm up with a good cup of tea or hot chocolate.
[The picture above is of some of us with the bishop, starting from the left: an unknown woman, next to her is Frances (USA), then PoPo (Philipines) who are both in the Hessburg Sabbatical program, the Bishop, Julius (Namibia) behind the bishop, Neri (Korea), Jia Qin and me.]
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