Times Square. Midnight. Fireworks. Music. Cheers. Friends. Resolutions. Each of these things embodies the true essence of a traditional American New Year.
While most of us are familiar with celebrating the entrance into a new year on Dec. 31 of every year, other cultures follow their own customs.
Arguably one of the most important and longest celebrations in China, Chinese New Year is the pinnacle of richness of Chinese society. The festival itself is dependent on the customary lunisolar Chinese calendar, composed from the movement of the moon and the sun, and is usually between January and February.
On the calendar, there are 12 different zodiacs that assign an animal and its corresponding attributes to each year in a 12-year cycle, similar to that of Greek astrology. The animals are a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The celebration lasts 15 days and ends with the Lantern Festival, a beautiful celebration with hundreds of colorful lantern displays.
2021 was the Year of the Ox, which is a symbol of diligence, strength, honesty, persistence and wealth. 2022 will be the Year of the Tiger, representing power in Chinese culture, and celebrated starting Tuesday, Feb. 1. Those born next year are said to be “vigorous and ambitious, daring and courageous, enthusiastic and generous, self-confident with a sense of justice and a commitment to help others for the greater good,” according to chinesenewyear.net.
The celebration of Chinese New Year is truly symbolic in that it is not simply a means to commemorate the previous year and mark the coming of a new one; it epitomizes the necessity of kinship and companionship in people’s lives.
Jingyao Guo ’22 said, “It’s a time for families to reunite and for distant relative to connect. We gather together the night before New Year’s Day and eat family dinner, as well as watch this one television show that is made for families to watch.”
Even the foods they eat and clothing they wear have special meanings.
“Tang Yuan is a dessert, and it represents family reunion. Also, fish is ‘Yu’ in Chinese, and ‘Yu’ can also mean ‘leftovers’ or ‘having something left,’ so for you to have fish every year, it also means that you always have enough,” Guo said.
Additionally, in order to set an optimistic tone for the rest of the year, many will wear red, which is the Chinese color of good fortune, and is believed to scare away spirits of bad luck.
The breadth of Chinese New Year is further fostered by Ursuline students and staff and integrated into the language department’s curriculum.
Lucy Tran ’22, President of Ursuline’s National Chinese Honor Society (NCHS), said, “Last year, with Covid-19 restrictions at school, NCHS celebrated by putting together little goodie bags filled with Chinese candy to give out to the student body during school hours, and also sent in related trivia questions and riddles to UA Live the entire week. It’s a really exciting time of year for us!”
She also explained how Mandarin teacher Mei Shen typically gifts her students little red envelopes with Chinese candy inside, a tradition in many Asian countries like Vietnam and China.
Mary Stone ’23, a student in Ursuline’s Mandarin Chinese class, recounts her work on the annual Chinese New Year projects Mandarin students are assigned.
“We basically have to find the different traditions the culture maintains, and the foods people eat,” she said. “The project has ultimately given me an appreciation for the Chinese culture and the special festivities they have.”
Although you may celebrate New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31 every year, take the time to recognize a new holiday in early 2022 to gain an appreciation for the culture and traditions encompassed in Chinese New Year. You won’t regret it!