Celebrations of the Lunar New Year kicked off yesterday, in honor of the first holiday in the solar and lunar calendar year.
With months based off of the new moon and days determined by the sun’s longitude, this calendar brings the New Year in on January 26, 2009, of the Gregorian calendar. Though it is most commonly known to be celebrated in China, other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam also celebrate the Lunar New Year.
According to Chinese Professor Wan-Li Ho, the Lunar New Year is the most important out of all the holidays in Asia. She said this is because generations ago, China and other Asian countries were primarily agricultural countries.
“The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival in China, is not only a celebration of a new time,” Ho said. “It is also the celebration of the growth and prosperity of the crops.”
While the events of New Year’s Day are similar throughout the United States, the celebration of the Lunar New Year varies from country to country, city to city and family to family. Sometimes, the festivities last two days, while others might go on for more than a week. Despite these differences, overall beliefs, values and traditions have remained consistent — starting a new beginning, looking to the future with optimism and, most importantly, connecting with family are among those traditions.
Catherine Dong, a College senior and Chinese student, said that for her, the Lunar New Year is a very important time for her family members to be thankful for what they have and to be humble and pious about the gains and misfortunes of the past year. Even when her entire family cannot be together for the holiday, she said, everybody still makes an effort to be close.
“The most important calls within a year are made on the Lunar New Year,” Dong said.
Shan Shan Wu, another College senior and Chinese student, said that her Lunar New Year is comparable to the American Thanksgiving.
“All the family members gather together to eat a big dinner and to wish everyone a happy new year,” she said. “Children receive hong bao, or red envelopes, with money in them. It’s a time of hope for the new year.”
Without family here at school, both Dong and Wu said that it is more difficult to uphold certain traditions during Lunar New Year.
“Celebrating the [Lunar] New Year at school is different from celebrating it at home because of the fact that you spend it with friends and not family members,” Wu said.
Dong said that at Emory, she does not celebrate Lunar except at the Lunar New Year ceremony hosted by the Emory Chinese Student Association (ECSA).
“Certain traditions my family does together have been lost on me since I came here because I am unable to find people who have the same traditions,” Dong said.
College junior and ECSA President Man-Ki Law has not been able to celebrate Lunar New Year with his family for nine years because all his relatives live in China. He said that for him, the most valued element of family is missing from the holiday, but he is able to celebrate with friends, still remembering the traditions he followed with his family almost a decade ago.
“In my family, preparing for the actual day of the [Lunar] New Year was part of the holiday. We always cleaned the house before New Year’s to represent a new beginning. On [Lunar] New Year’s Day, we weren’t allowed to wash our hair because doing so would mean washing out the luck,” Law said.
Food is always a vital component of Lunar New Year, regardless of how traditionally or non-traditionally certain Asian families celebrate it.
College freshman and Chinese student Jory Liang said that he is not as familiar with traditional beliefs as others are, but that he and his family still recognize the holiday.
“My family has never really had any grand celebrations for anything, but we usually just hold a dinner party and invite a few other Chinese families over, or we go to one hosted by a friend,” he said.
Jennifer Myung, a Korean and College freshman, said that though she is aware of the culture, she does not consistently follow the traditional celebration.
“I go to Lunar New Year’s parties occasionally, but it’s not something I formally celebrate every year,” she said.
Ho, Dong and Law, on the other hand, have more specific dinner traditions.
“There are certain types of food we always make on [Lunar] New Year’s,” Dong said of her family. “Foods like dumplings, sticky rice balls and fish have been passed down for generations.”
Ho said that in Chinese, the word for “fish” is similar to the word for “leftover,” explaining the tradition of eating — or not eating — fish.
“We always have fish on the table,” Law said. “We never eat it, though. We save the fish as leftovers in hopes that our ‘leftovers’ from the past year will continue to prosper in the next year.”
The food may be representative of what is to come in the upcoming year, but more importantly, the animals of the zodiac offer an indication of the future. This year is the year of the ox, which Ho said is characterized by strength.
“The ox is able to work steadily without complaints,” Ho said. “The ox’s personality comes through in a great show of determination and stubbornness. Because of this, I think people will be encouraged to work hard in this year.”
Not only was President Obama inaugurated during the year of the ox, he is also an ox according to the Chinese zodiac. Dong said that she is hopeful that 2009 will bring success.
“I believe the year of the ox, especially this year with Obama in office and with Bush stepping down, will be much better than last year,” she said.
— Contact Alice Chen.