A few weeks ago, I stopped by the Vietnamese cultural table at the GRPM Ethnic Heritage Festival. They were the first group to set up, and I introduced myself to a lovely family. Mr. Doan shared a Lunar New Year bulletin of Vietnamese culture. After exchanging phone numbers, I told him that I would love to visit his church for mass and attend their Lunar New Year celebrations.
Although Lunar New Year came on a Thursday, many celebrated over the weekend. The local Korean church held a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday, while we gathered with a few new friends and old for some Korean dduk guk and delicious Orion Choco Pie, 48 Count, with Marshmallow Cream (contains affiliate link) and Haitai Oh Yes! Premium Chocolate Coated Sweet Potatoes Filling Cake (Pack of 2) (contains affiliate link).
Mr. Doan said that his church would hold (Catholic) mass and then celebrate with lots of festivities afterward. He told us to come early, as we’d probably have to find parking. When we arrived, he was not kidding. I had never seen so many Vietnamese people in Grand Rapids before! Mr. Doan met us at the front door, and he helped us to find to seating. At least 500+ people were seated inside.
The last time I attended Catholic mass was in 2000. In a small town in northern France, it was the only church in town. I could smell the incense from far away, a familiar memory and reminiscent of my experience in France. However, the Vietnamese church added a cultural element, such as playing drums at the beginning of their processional.
The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids presided in English with the Reverend of Our Lady of La-Vang who presided in Vietnamese. While much of the service was in Vietnamese, the parts spoken in English helped me to understand the order of worship. Sitting among a sea of thick dark hair, it didn’t feel all that different from the Korean immigrant church experience from my childhood. But unlike many Korean immigrant churches today, second generation women in the Vietnamese Catholic church still held onto part of their culture, wearing colorful Vietnamese traditional outfits.
Once mass was over, people quickly changed the scenery. Auxiliary chairs were removed. The Bishop, Reverend, and a few others handed out red envelopes to children, ages one up to single young adults.
Children who received a red envelope fed their envelope back into the mouth of the dragon.
Once the show and fire cracker show was over, everyone shifted their chairs to the back of the room. They held a shadow dance show, much like the ones you see in America’s Got Talent. It was a story of a boy who endured through a tough childhood, left home, received an education, and found love.
Plenty of cultural stories were shared, and I appreciated that they shared how newlyweds visited families’ homes to celebrate the New Year. Young girls in traditional dresses danced a fan dance, while others played ancient musical instruments.
But my most favorite moment of the day was watching and learning about a beautiful new part of Grand Rapids culture. Mr. Doan shared his immigrant story, and I am forever grateful that he shared his life story with this random Korean family.