Harrison County

In Biloxi, Year of the Rooster begins with dance and prayer

Fireworks and large, red and yellow dancing lions capped off Chinese New Year celebrations Sunday for the Vietnamese Buddhist congregation at Chua Van Duc temple in Biloxi.

The devout had already swept their houses clean, as is the custom, and gathered to celebrate family, their ancestors, food, prayer and wishes for good health and fortune.

The celebration also is known as the Vietnamese New Year or Tet. Saturday was the first day of the new lunar year.

This is the Year of the Rooster, the 10th of the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. The rooster represents fidelity and punctuality because the rooster wakes people up on time, according to cultural beliefs.

Several dozen people gathered at the temple on Oak Street to celebrate.

“I enjoy the prayers and incense, the lion dances and visiting with people,” 20-year-old Krystina Tu said.

“Like Thanksgiving is a big celebration for many people, this is our big celebration of the year,” Tu said.

Monk Thay Thich Hien, in a gold robe, joined celebrants for a lunch of spicy vegetarian soup made with tofu and other vegetables and desserts, including a treat cooked in banana leaves.

He also handed out oranges and red envelopes for good luck. The envelopes each contained a quarter and a piece of paper with a saying, written in Vietnamese. Centuries ago, red envelopes were used to give money at special occasions, with the red said to ward off evil spirits.

A small group of Red Hat Ladies showed up at the celebration.

“We wanted to have a cultural experience and everyone has been so nice to us,” said Marie Eck, queen mother of the Red Hat Ladies’ Crown Jewels of d’Nile.

“They’ve been so understanding in explaining things to us,” Eck said.

A special celebration

Temple President Tanya Kennedy, who grew up in Laos, said she was pleased that “a very, very good crowd” turned out.

“We always eat together after every service, but today was very special,” she said

Celebrations began after the temple’s 11 a.m. service.

People gathered outside the temple as firecrackers were placed around an area for dancing lions to enter. Dancers formed the bodies of large red and yellow lions with over-sized dragon-like heads. Lions are symbols of power, dignity and wisdom, and their dances are intended to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the audience, according to Chinese tradition.

Drums beat as the lions danced. A boy dressed as a monk gave comic relief and a young man with a spear-like object joined in with choreographed Kung Fu-style fighting movements.

The faithful prayed for their ancestors as incense burned at altars inside and outside the temple. Some who attended placed money or red decorations on yellow or pink apricot trees.

“It’s for good luck, well-being and prosperity,” Tu said.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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