How Westminster Students Celebrate Chinese New Year
BY JIM MALVEN
Westminster’s students from China are celebrating their country’s most important holiday and bringing their home traditions over 7,000 miles to campus, with events coordinated by Chinese Club.
For the past two weeks, Chinese Club has been planning celebratory events in honor of the Chinese Lunar New Year. So far, the festivities have included a traditional Chinese meal in the townhouse lounge, Fresh Ideas’ “Special Tasting” of dumplings in the Dining Hall and spring rolls in JCI on New Year’s Day, and an informational presentation Tuesday about the Lunar New Year, known as Spring Festival in China.
The presentation, held in Hazel 112, drew a large crowd. Recently retired International Student Admissions Coordinator Pat Kirby attended, Chinese Club member Yuchen Shang, ’18, from Beijing, handed out paper-cuts, Chinese characters cut out of paper, and President Jinyu Wang, ’18, also from Beijing, presented a PowerPoint and video about the Spring Festival.
“It’s the biggest or most important festival in Chinese culture,” Wang said.
Her presentation described the origin of the celebration, which has its roots in a millennia-old legend about a mythical monster named Nian. According to the video shown, Nian attacked the villagers in China with the appearance of each new moon, causing the villagers to become as fearful of the new moon as Nian. However, a wise man eventually learned that Nian was afraid of three things, which the villagers could use to their defense: loud noises, fire and the color red. During the next new moon, the people banged on their drums, set off firecrackers and wore red clothing, scaring the beast away forever. The legend states that from then on, people began to celebrate the new moon, rather than fear it. This commemoration ultimately became the 15-day celebration of Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in late January or early February, depending on the lunar calendar.
This year’s Spring Festival began on Feb. 7, New Year’s Eve, and will run through Feb. 22, the emergence of the full moon. In China, most adults have a seven-day holiday, and children may have as long as a month off from school.
Roughly a week before New Year’s Eve, families will begin to prepare for the Spring Festival and the New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner. Traditional jingles say that on the first day, they are to place a melted candy on the mouth of a 灶王爷 figurine, the Kitchen God, for good luck. This should then be followed by a day of cleaning then five days of cooking, though not everyone follows this schedule.
“Every family has its own plan, but this one is traditional,” Schang said. “This is what the traditional songs told us.”
On New Year’s Eve, family members gather from across the country for the reunion dinner. People tune in to the New Year TV Gala, a Chinese variety show and one of the most watched shows in the world, and children try to stay up past midnight, to experience the changing of lunar years.
“I always spend my Spring Festival in my grandma’s house, which is in Inner Mongolia, and we always watch the TV program, eat and play games,” Schang said.
People also celebrate the Spring Festival by decorating buildings with Chinese characters, setting off fireworks and giving or receiving red envelopes, in which elders send money to children in exchange for well wishes.
Wang said that in China, she celebrated the Spring Festival by eating the reunion dinner with her family, watching the TV Gala, visiting friends, decorating her house and setting off firecrackers.
On the final day of the Spring Festival, people line the streets carrying paper lanterns for the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Spring Festival and the beginning of the spring season.
In addition to collaborating on last Tuesday’s presentation, students have gotten together in commemoration of the Spring Festival to make food, play games and just hang out.
“I’m a sophomore, so I’ve already had two Spring Festivals spent in the United States,” Schang said. “Both times, we celebrated in the townhouse lounge.”
“Chinese parties aren’t crazy,” she added, saying that she and her friends played videogames and card games and decorated their dorms.
During this time of year, Chinese students also contact their loved ones, often in the form of video chat through the app WeChat. And, thanks to WeChat’s launch of WeChat Red Envelope in 2014, people can now give or receive money as if giving or receiving red envelopes.