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January 25, 2023: Lunar New Year

Authors: Greg Lecki, Sonia Xu, Ambrose Huo

January 22, 2023 marks the Lunar New Year celebration, also known as the Spring Festival.

This festival occurs on the date of the second new Moon after the winter Solstice that always takes place in late December. The first day of the Lunar New Year can occur anytime between January 21 and February 20.

There are currently more than 60 international students originating from countries where the Lunar New Year is celebrated as the most important holiday of the year. This holiday is often associated with China, but it is observed to various degrees in many other Asian countries, including Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia, Indonesia and more. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these students have not had the opportunity to share in this celebration with their loved ones since early 2020.

We would like to share the following stories written by Wangyang “Sonia” Xu and Haitao “Ambrose” Huo. Sonia is an international student and Ambrose serves as a language assistant. These stories will, hopefully, provide better cultural context and understanding of this very significant event.

Please note: The recent Lunar New Year celebration at the Glover Alston Center and the commentaries provided by Sonia and Ambrose were submitted before the community learned of the tragic shooting in Monterey Park. We want to encourage anyone who is in need of support during this time to reach out to the Whitman CARE Team.

Wangyang “Sonia” Xu:
2022 was a turbulent year for Chinese people around the globe, as numerous protests against COVID-19 protocols took place in China at the end of the year. Now engaging new dynamics between the people and the government, Chinese New Year becomes even more significant for those who celebrate it to seek peace and comfort from their families.

With urbanization and younger generations leaving their hometowns for more job opportunities, Chinese New Year provides a precious time for families to come together and enjoy each other’s presence. Since Chinese New Year takes place between mid-January and mid-February (after the winter break at Whitman College), Chinese international students rarely get the chance to travel home and celebrate with their families.

The lunar calendar plays an important role in many Chinese cultures. The moon was used as an indication of time every month for centuries. Since people mainly relied on agriculture in the past, the night time served as an opportunity to relax and enjoy the night sky after a day of hard work on fields. There are thousands of poems about the moon composed by poets in different time periods that show how significant the moon has been in China.

From one week prior to two weeks after Chinese New Year’s Eve, people practice different customs on each day. On the first day after New Year's Eve, people leave their home to greet and visit their friends and relatives. In Chinese mythology, Zao Shen (or ‘Stove God’ in English) reports to the Jade Emperor (the ‘Ruler of Heaven’) about each household’s accomplishments and wrong doings every year. So, on the fourth day of Chinese New Year, people worship Zao Shen by preparing food and spreading melted candy on the lips of his statue or picture, with the hope that he would make less criticizing comments in front of the Jade Emperor.

Food is also a crucial part of new year celebrations in China. Different regions have different traditional dishes, but it’s common to have a large meal on New Year’s Eve called Nian Ye Fan where everyone in the family sits together as they say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new year. People in areas where I come from, often referred to as the land of fish and rice, very often include steamed fish in their Nian Ye Fan.

This holiday is important to me and my family on a more personal level, because I am a new year baby, born on the seventh day of Chinese New Year; and my mother was born three days before Chinese New Year’s Eve. Therefore, it also became a birthday celebration for us.

Notes: This is my contribution as a Chinese student, so I can’t speak for other international students with different backgrounds. Though Lunar New Year originated from China, different countries now celebrate their Lunar New Year on different dates with different traditions.

Ambrose Huo:
This year is the year of the rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac. I was born in 1999, which was also the year of the rabbit. There is a tradition in my hometown that when it is your year, you should wear red clothes (at least the underwear) to avoid bad luck in that year.

My hometown is located in the northwestern part of China, which has a history of more than 3,000 years. The lunar new year for us is more than a celebration, but also a time to commemorate our ancestors. On New Year’s Eve, we will go to the cemetery to burn some spiritual money for them and invite them to come home with us to celebrate the new year together. For us, the lunar new year is not just one day, but a long period that lasts for over 15 days. Before the lunar new year, we spend at least seven days preparing for it. And after the lunar new year, we visit our relatives and friends frequently. The lunar new year ends right after the lantern festival.

The most exciting thing for local people during the lunar new year is the folk parade, which includes very characteristic dancing and traditional instruments. Every village has its own folk parade team. Before New Year’s Eve, they will perform at every house in the village to bring good luck to the residents. The hosts will light firecrackers to welcome them and give them presents to thank them. After the lunar new year, there will be a formal parade on the streets and many folk parade contests will be held.

Due to the unbalanced development in China, more and more people prefer to find a job in cities and settle down there. Only children and the elderly are left behind in the countryside. The traditions are vanishing and reunion has become a luxury for the left-behind children and elderly. I was once a left-behind child when I was young. Personally speaking, I don’t like the lunar new year because the reunion lasts too short and the departure comes too soon.

Photo (Ambrose Huo): folk parade

Photo (Ambrose Huo): folk parade

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