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Celebrating Lunar New Year as a Bruin and welcoming the Year of the Dragon

(Joy Chen/Daily Bruin)

By Katherine Wang

Feb. 8, 2024 11:05 p.m.

An abundance of food, red packets and toy dragons circulate among Bruins this weekend as the Year of the Dragon arrives.

Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is a holiday celebrating the beginning of the lunisolar calendar and a time to welcome spring. The holiday falls on Feb. 10 this year and is celebrated annually by more than 1.5 billion people primarily from Asian countries.

Min Zhou, a sociology and Asian American studies professor who spent most of her young adult life in mainland China, said Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in Chinese culture, but that it’s not only the Chinese who celebrate the lunisolar new year.

“I lived in Singapore, and (in) Singapore, Chinese New Year is a big holiday,” Zhou said. “It’s a big public holiday recognized by the government because Singapore is a multicultural society, so when I was there, I felt quite at home.”

Some people may use Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year interchangeably, and while the former is specific to the Chinese, the latter generalizes the name to other countries that also celebrate the holiday such as Tibet, South Korea and Vietnam, according to People.

Lunar New Year celebrations may last up to 15 days. Zhou said in China, celebrations end after the Lantern Festival, which is on the 15th day following the New Year.

Second-year business economics student Andy Liu also has experience celebrating Lunar New Year both in China and the United States, as he was born and raised in China and moved to the U.S. in fourth grade. He said his favorite holiday tradition was watching the Spring Festival Gala in China as a kid. The gala is China’s televised variety show featuring comedy acts, song and dance performances and other events that begin at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and last past midnight.

“During that time, we used to fold dumplings, and once the clock strikes 12, we eat the dumplings that we made and to cross into New Years,” Liu said. “Back when it was legal when I was a kid, … there were also a lot of fireworks around, so it was a very festive environment and a very fun place to be around.”

Different Bruins may hail from different countries but still share similar traditions surrounding the lunisolar New Year. Olivia Luo, a second-year applied math student born and raised in the U.S., said her parents who are Chinese immigrants, said the Lunar New Year is a time of celebration.

“Usually I spend time with my family,” Luo said. “Make some good food, don’t think about the sad things, just be happy.”

Luo said her favorite traditions are receiving red packets and making dumplings with family. She also said red packets, sometimes referred to as red envelopes, express goodwill and familial bonds between older and younger generations.

While festivities have many commonalities, there exist some cultural and regional variations.

One example of a regional difference is the food. Zhou said people in Northern China eat dumplings while those in the South cook nine different dishes abundant in meats, such as chicken and fish, for their New Year’s Eve banquet.

Another example of a regional difference is the way red packets are distributed. Zhou said Northerners have the tradition of handing children their red packets on New Year’s Day while Southerners place red packets under children’s pillows for them to open first thing in the morning.

Food and red packets exemplify the rich symbolism the Lunar New Year embodies. According to Level, red packets represent wealth, luck and joy. Other customs, such as hanging lantern decorations and lighting firecrackers, represent happiness, fortune and protection from evil spirits.

The 12 zodiacs are also associated with the Lunar New Year. One animal corresponds to one lunisolar calendrical year and the zodiacs rotate on a 12-year cycle. This February will be retiring the Year of the Rabbit and welcoming the Year of the Dragon.

“The dragon is a symbol of the emperor,” Zhou said. “A lot of people would want to have their baby born in the Year of the Dragon because the dragon is a symbol of power, and it’s the imperial power.”

The U.S. has long followed the Gregorian, or solar calendar, thus the Lunar New Year is not a federal holiday for Bruins, which can affect those who celebrate it.

Zhou said in some years, she finds herself administering midterm exams for her classes on Chinese New Year. She added that she misses the holiday atmosphere in Asia.

Liu said the festivities associated with the holiday haven’t changed too much for him, though the date of the holiday varying from year to year can be inconvenient.

“We still watch the shows, despite the time difference, and do everything,” Liu said. “But obviously there might be school or work the next day, so that kind of makes it a little bit more difficult.”

This year, Lunar New Year is on a Saturday, which may give Bruins more opportunities and time to celebrate with their families in their leisure, whether it be through calls or at home.

“In terms of this year, it falls on a weekend, thankfully,” Liu added. “So for this year, I’ll be going back home this weekend to celebrate it with my family.”

As some Bruins prepare for their celebrations, growing cultural fusion in the modern world may instigate a different future of the celebration of the lunisolar New Year in the U.S. Embracing cultural diversity in holiday traditions can be a way of promoting appreciation and respect for celebrations different from our own, according to Medium. Zhou said in an increasingly internationalizing society, recognizing and respecting different cultural traditions is an important part of embracing multiculturalism.

Luo also said the holiday can be celebrated regardless of one’s cultural background and identity.

“For anyone who wants to celebrate Lunar New Year, whether you’re Chinese or not, just think of it as a time to spend with your family and friends,” Luo said. “Sit down, have chats, eat some good food.”

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