Campus celebration of Chinese New Year blends

Robin Huiras

For Chinese students, the ultimate party commences today — a holiday in which gifts are exchanged, a feast is served and families unite. Top these activities with dancing, drinking and fireworks.
This combination of events are customary festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year. Although most of the world celebrated New Year’s more than a month ago, for the Chinese population, the new year is only now beginning.
“It’s a very involved holiday,” said Yingying Chen, a Chinese graduate student in chemical engineering. “It’s like Christmas and Thanksgiving combined.”
Because the Chinese follow a lunar rather than a solar calendar, Feb. 16 marks the first day of the Chinese New Year — the Year of the Rabbit.
The traditional New Year’s celebration begins mid-way through the 12th month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year. Although it’s a month long, most of the revelry surrounds the actual day.
The Taiwan Student Alliance and the Asian American Student Cultural Center will celebrate the holiday Thursday evening at Coffman Union.
“The celebration depends on the person,” said Ping Chen, a member of the Asian American Student Cultural Center board. “Most people celebrate one day, but it may follow over to the next day.”
The celebration varies not only from person to person, but from country to country. The biggest difference between the two countries is the atmosphere. For example, Yingying Chen said that in China, stores advertise fireworks weeks in advance of the actual day. But in America, specifically Minnesota, that does not happen.
“We try to give the same atmosphere, but the community doesn’t have it,” Yingying Chen said. “We still have to go to work and school.”
Going to school on the first day of the new year doesn’t bother most University students, Ping Chen said. The Chinese culture stresses education and learning takes precedent over the biggest holiday of the year.
Yu-Shih Chen, a professor in the Institute of Linguistics and Asian/Slavic Languages and Literature said people overseas try to retain the same traditions and celebrations as in China, but because Chinese people are such a small minority in the United States, the holiday is different.
“In Chinatowns in New York and San Francisco the celebration would be more or less the same because they are urban centers,” Yu-Shih Chen said.
No matter the location, certain traditions are always practiced, the Dragon Dance or Lion Dance being one of them.
“The dragon and lion are symbols of prosperity and strength,” Yingying Chen said. And the dances signify the new year will bring prosperity.
Although it cannot be practiced in Minnesota, another ancient tradition is the setting off of fireworks. Chinese legend has it that a beast named Nian, which in modern Chinese means ‘year,’ would prey on people at the beginning of the new year. To scare off the beast and prevent being consumed, the people began to employ the loud sounds of firecrackers.
Giving money to children is a universal practice for the holiday. Adults wrap money in red envelopes and give them to children every year on the first day of the year until they marry. Old Chinese money took the form of coins, and Yu-Shih Chen said traditionally it was a way to weigh children down so spirits couldn’t carry them off. The amount of money given depends upon the wealth of the family and the age of the child.
The differences in the customs from China to America are caused by the residents, Ping Chen said. “The people are different, the mentality is different,”
For example, in China, only the middle class of people partake in drinking alcohol on the holiday; well-educated people do not drink, Yu-Shih Chen said. But in America, most Chinese drink on the holiday.
“It’s a form of showing camaraderie because we are all equal,” Ping Chen said. “In China, there is a set class structure and here there is not.”