Wednesday, October 20, 2021

How MSU students and faculty are celebrating Lunar New Year

Typical traditions, how the holiday came to be and more

February 12, 2021
Chinese New Year art by Maddie Monroe
Chinese New Year art by Maddie Monroe —
Photo by Maddie Monroe | The State News

Lunar New Year begins on Friday, Feb.12 this year with festivities lasting until the next full moon. 

The origins of this holiday include multiple different legends. One in particular talks about a monster called Nian who attacked villagers at the beginning of each new year. The only things this monster was afraid of were loud noises, bright lights and the color red. So, these things were used to get rid of the monster, according to Britannica.

The main purpose of this holiday is to put the past year behind and to celebrate the luck, prosperity and joy of a new one.

Naoko Wake, associate professor of history and director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program believes that Lunar New Year is not just for people abroad but also for the Asian American community here in the U.S. to celebrate.

“It’s the coming of a new, fresh start, a fresh beginning,” Wake said.

She said that people tend to celebrate with special food, and that it’s a time for family to get together. People will also do a major cleaning of their house before this period of celebration so that everything will be fresh and new during the new year. 

There are firecrackers and fireworks as well, according to Wake. You might even see them at festivals around Chinatowns in the U.S. These fireworks and firecrackers hold a special meaning as they chase away bad fortunes and evil spirits.

Wake also recognizes that this Lunar New Year can be celebrated in many different ways. She grew up in Japan, so she had a Japanese variation of the holiday. 

The Asian Pacific American community at MSU, which includes students, faculty and staff, is planning on celebrating the new year in a creative way over Zoom. 

"Each one of us is supposed to contribute a recipe that has special meaning to us, it could be a family tradition, something you learned and liked as an adult but something that’s very special to you,” Wake said. “So, we will share that recipe within the community and we are hoping to make a special cookbook.”

Yulian Wu, an assistant professor in the history department, agreed with Wake on people celebrating Lunar New Year differently, specifying that various regions of China have unique kinds of food they eat during the holiday.

“In northern China, many people get together and wrap dumplings together, and then they cook the dumplings," Wu said. "In the southern part of China, the place where I come from, we don’t really eat dumplings during Chinese New Year. We eat spring rolls and sweet, sticky rice with eight precious nuts or fruits on top of it. Some places eat rice ball soup.”

Another big part of the holiday are red envelopes, which contain cash and are typically given by older generations such as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to the younger generation or the kids of the family. This act of giving is supposed to bring good fortune.

On the last day of Chinese New Year — the 15th day — Wu said it’s typical to have a lantern festival. On this day people would hang lanterns up and they would light lanterns in temples. There are also parades in the countryside and cities. 

This year, Wu plans on having nice food the day before Lunar New Year and a huge feast on the day of and also on the 15th day. She will give her children red envelopes with cash, and her family has put up lanterns around the house to decorate. In the pandemic she believes that’s all they can really do.

She also said that the Spartan Chinese School organized an event online which they posted on YouTube that people can watch.

Human biology senior Jessica Zhang sometimes visits China on the holiday because that’s where most of her family lives. There she visits her grandparents, and they go to festivals with food stalls and performances.

During the times Jessica Zhang doesn’t have the chance to go, then her family would have a couple friends over and they make dumplings on the first day of Lunar New Year while watching the new year gala that is on every year.

“It’s very food centric for us, so other times we eat fish and stuff because for a lot of Chinese people the word fish in Chinese sounds very similar to another word that means extra or plentiful,” Jessica Zhang said. “So, you eat fish to celebrate the fact that hopefully this year you have plenty of food and plenty of prosperity.”

Jessica Zhang is sad that she won’t be able to gather with friends and family this year like normal. She can’t celebrate the new year with her parents as she is unable to go home like she typically does.

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She said that sometimes she prefers referring to the holiday as Lunar New Year because their are other countries that celebrate the holiday as well and calling it Chinese New Year would be like excluding them.

Psychology senior Yuxuan Zhang celebrates Lunar New Year because it reminds her of having family around since she is currently away from them in the U.S.

“Celebrating new year’s with my friends or having friends come over brings back that sense of belonging and sense of home, especially when everyone’s celebrating on the other side of the globe kind of just reminds me of my family and being able to have their support," Yuxuan Zhang said.

Her family's traditions include eating hot pot, making food together and eating Chinese food. Another tradition they have is the red envelopes. 

This year she plans on celebrating by cooking with her friends that live with her or ordering some takeout from restaurants, Zooming together with other friends and calling family back in China. Although, Yuxuan Zhang definitely does miss spending the new year at home.

“I do miss it because it’s a different feeling, everybody we celebrated as a family," she said. "The whole purpose of Chinese New Year is to spend it with your family and loved ones."

She added that if you're an international student that feels homesick or can’t be with family during the new year, definitely call home and talked to loved ones during this special holiday. 

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