Fathers CheLong Bai and RunBao Zhang pass out red envelopes following Mass at St. Therese Chinese Church in Chicago's Chinatown at the start of the Chinese lunar new year in 2014. CNS photo/Karen Callaway/Catholic New World

Speaking Out: Remembering traditions of my heritage and the Church

By  Vanessa Chan, Youth Speak News
  • January 27, 2017

Happy New Year! Growing up in Canada, I had a largely typical North American childhood experience, but it was also infused with the traditions of my Chinese heritage.

One of the most prominent celebrations of the Chinese calendar, the Lunar New Year, begins Jan. 28. It spans 15 days, during which families gather and the youth pay respects to their elders.

Because most of my relatives live in Hong Kong, my parents and I would sit by the phone at night during the New Year, calling my grandparents to give them our traditional greetings. For the family members who were in Canada, we would all gather at my great-uncle’s house and share a meal (an otherwise rare occurrence). It was basically our version of a Christmas dinner.

When I do things like waking up early to prepare tea for my parents (a tradition for children to do as a sign of respect), or greet my relatives with customary four-word phrases wishing success or fortune, I feel like I am taking part in something beyond myself, something that has spanned centuries and continents.

In the same vein, there is a beauty around sacred tradition. As Catholics, our source of God’s revelation to us is through the pillars of sacred Scripture and sacred tradition. There is something striking about the universality of the Church’s teachings and a security in the unity one finds in the liturgy.

Whether it is participating in the Mass with millions of other young adults at World Youth Day or sitting alone in front of the Blessed Sacrament, there is a connectedness among the Church’s members and not only with the Church on Earth but also with its members in Heaven.

The Church’s dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, states: “What was handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith…. The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit.”

In this way the Church, too, encourages us to reflect on and live in the tradition of our spiritual ancestors, leading back to the apostles and ultimately the originator of the traditions, God Himself.

We have much to learn from our elders and our past. And maybe the next time you find yourself in a ceremony or celebration, or even at Mass, think upon your presence as a piece of a grander whole, an existence beyond yourself. It can change the way you look at the world around you, the richness it contains and just how united you are with others, many of whom you probably have not met.

As for myself? Seeing the beauty of tradition changes how I approach my actions, whether it’s saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison, or just pouring a cup of tea.

(Chan, 24, is a second-year PhD student studying at the University of Helsinki in Finland.)

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