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The excitement around the Chinese New Year

February 13, 2015
Father Peter Zhai

The celebration of each Chinese New Year was always very special for me as I grew up in China. My family, like many other families in our small town, was poor, but we were rich also in that we had many children, six of us in our family.

At New Year’s, dad and mom always made sure that we had special food to eat and new clothes to wear. On New Year’s Eve, mom always washed us clean before we went to bed. Before we got into bed, she placed the new clothes to be worn the following day folded at the side of our beds. With a smile on my face and my hands lying on my new clothes, I longed for the New Year as I fell asleep.

New Year’s morning was the only morning when mom did not have to wake me up. Up early, I eagerly put on my new clothes and new shoes. Then I went running through the streets to bring New Year’s greetings to each house in our village. When I returned home, I basked in the compliments of my grandparents, uncles and aunts saying how handsome I was and how beautiful my clothes were. For me, New Year’s was sheer joy and excitement.

As we children grew older, my parents added more emphasis on how to prepare ourselves spiritually for New Year celebrations. On New Year’s Eve, we gathered as a family in our prayer room to pray. It was a time of reflection on the past year. We asked God’s forgiveness for our offenses; we expressed our gratitude to God for his blessings to our family. It was also a time to pray to God for blessings and graces for the coming year. In the prayer of repentance, I felt cleansed. In the prayer of thanksgiving, my heart was touched by God’s enduring love; in the prayer for the New Year, I was motivated with renewed hope. In such a joyful and prayerful moment, I learned to put on a different new set of clothes, as St. Paul states: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Each year as I matured I could feel the spiritual excitement more fully in my heart. Each of us is a new creation in Jesus Christ and there are always reasons for us to be enthusiastic about our faith and to celebrate our life in Christ.

The first day of lunar New Year falls this year on Feb. 19. The Chinese Catholic community in San Francisco will gather to celebrate New Year Mass of 2015 at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Following Mass, there will be a New Year’s banquet in Patrons Hall, located on the lower level of the cathedral. According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the year of “Yang,” which refers to goats, rams or sheep. Since we are the sheep belonging to Christ the Good Shepherd, calling this year the year of the sheep is appropriate. Our eternal shepherd is Christ; the shepherd for the whole church is Pope Francis; and we are delighted with our local shepherd, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone who will celebrate the Mass in the cathedral with retired Bishop Ignatius Wang and other bishops and priests.

Respecting elders and being grateful to ancestors are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Through the Mass we will show our respect and venerate in a special way our beloved who have gone before us. Immediately after the Mass, we will celebrate the rite for the veneration of ancestors in which we pray for them, respect them, recall their goodness to us, and seek their intercession for us before God. Our church has recognized the meaning and value of this special prayer associated with Chinese New Year. This new rite has been adapted as a form of prayer in accordance with our belief in the communion of saints.

Every Catholic celebration is centered in Christ. Through our New Year celebration this year, we hope to renew among Chinese Catholics in San Francisco the determination to bring the Gospel to all and to spread the good news to Chinese in the city who have not had a chance to know Jesus. This renewal constitutes the new clothes which the Chinese community puts on, and my joy is just as intense as when I was 7 or 8 years old.

Divine Word Father Peter Zhai is director of Chinese ministry in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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