U students greet Chinese New Year

Students experience culture and tradition at the Chinese New Year Celebration.

by Liala Helal

Michelle Pho, an Eden Prairie High School student, learned about the lost traditions of the Chinese culture Friday at Coffman Union.

On tables adorned with bright red tablecloths, tangerines and yellow daffodils for harmony, life and respect for elders, Pho joined approximately 400 people who enjoyed a free traditional Chinese dinner at the Chinese New Year Celebration.

Bright red decorations around the union’s Great Hall were meant to spread luck throughout the year and help students learn from ancient Chinese traditions and colorful performances during the event. The 2005 lunar year is the year of the rooster.

“We wanted to bring everyone together for the new year and start the new year with the campus community,” said Mary Kwan, a Chinese American Student Association board member.

Guests signed a large, red banner as they entered the party, a Chinese tradition usually done at weddings. A Chinese ensemble played soft, traditional music during dinner.

“The Chinese New Year is a very big deal, so we wanted to share our culture with everyone on campus,” said Stephanie Chan, the Chinese American Student Association treasurer.

Students showcased the culture by participating in several performances for the rooster dance, lotus dance, kung fu and a lion dance. A quiz show also taught attendees about ancient Chinese traditions.

“We are sharing our celebration with everyone, whether they are Chinese or not. We would like to share our culture and what we celebrate,” said Helen Hong, an association member.

Students lined up after the event to have their pictures taken at the portrait stand, with a portion of the proceeds going toward tsunami relief funds. American Red Cross donation cans were also placed on tables.

A traditional lion dance closed the evening’s event. Performed by the Ha family, loud gongs scared away evil spirits, and the lion later “ate” lettuce and tangerines from the floor, for good fortune and togetherness.

With two people inside the 7-foot-long lion costume, Kwan and fellow board member Albert Leung said, the dance is difficult.

The person in the front must be the lion’s feet, control the facial and body expressions of the lion, and open its mouth to eat the tangerines. There are also difficult techniques to learn, such as jumping on each other’s shoulders and making the lion jump.

It takes a lot of practice, because maneuvering the lion and coordinating movements is very difficult, they said.

Alan Butterworth, a former Minnesota Daily employee, was the front performer in the lion costume, which was made of bamboo and paper mache.

“This is performed every new year to bless business and bring good luck,” Butterworth said. “The oranges bring harmony, because they are circular, and the lion is a symbol of good luck. It’s a really old tradition.”

By the end of the event, many said they felt more educated about the Chinese traditions.

“I liked learning about the old traditions that we don’t know anymore,” Pho said. For example, she learned the new year is celebrated for 15 days in China and children often hold lanterns in the street.

Others also said they enjoyed the event.

“I really felt like I was immersed in the culture,” University student Halla Elrashidi said. “The entertainment was so unique – I’ve never been exposed to such a diverse culture.”