East Asian Catholics celebrating the Lunar New Year this weekend are focused on family ties and charity, particularly in the dioceses of Thailand.
“Family is the nucleus and the heritage of Asian spirituality and culture,” Bishop Joseph Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima, a city 160 miles northeast of Bangkok, told CNA Jan. 31.
He said that for some Thai Catholics, the importance of the Lunar New Year celebration is derived from and influenced by Chinese culture.
Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, fell this year on Jan. 31, and celebrations continue until the Lantern Festival, observed Feb. 14. Some parishes will observe the new year on Sunday, Feb. 2, for the sake of those who work or have to travel long distances to come to Mass.
The event is celebrated culturally, and Catholics observe it with Masses of thanksgiving, blessings of cemeteries, “agape” meals, and sharing charitable gifts.
The festivities unite families in offering thanksgiving and in praying for their predecessors' souls.
Bishop Sirisut commented that the immigration of Chinese families to Thailand has influenced Thai culture, with much of the Lunar New Year celebrations representing an inculturation into Catholic spirituality and faith.
The bishop stressed that fellowship is the key which unites families in “prayer, communion, and sharing” during the new year festivities.
Following Masses of thanksgiving, families gathered for the distribution of “angpao”, or red envelopes containing gifts of money accompanied by oranges, which symbolize good luck and are given especially to children.
Bishop Silvio Siripong Charatsri of Chanthaburi said Mass at Sacred Heart parish in Sriracha, during which he preached on the importance of the family and distributed angpao to the faithful.
A local catechist, Aroonpraha Sukasee, told CNA that the Lunar New Year is focused on “prayer and family reunion dinners” among people of all religions in Thailand, but added that some practices of the celebrations are based on “taboos and superstitions” that “do not fall in line with Catholic teaching.”
She said she looks forward to the upcoming synod on the family, to be held in Rome in October, for what it might have to say on the horizons facing pastoral ministry in such multi-cultural situations as are found in Thailand and throughout southeast Asia.
Lunar New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice; Jan. 31 began the Year of the Horse, in the 12-year “Chinese zodiac.”