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Students ring in Lunar New Year on campus

Lunar New Year, which starts Feb. 10 and ends Feb. 24, is a time to connect with family and honor the blessings of the previous year.
Image by Shalom Berhane
The Chinese American Student Association’s Chinese New Year Event in the Great Hall on Feb. 11, 2024.

University of Minnesota students rang in the lunar new year, a 15-day celebration based on the lunar calendar celebrated in Asian cultures,  on Saturday. 

Lunar New Year is a time when families get together and wish for a prosperous year. Each year is represented by an animal known as the Chinese zodiac, which possesses certain personality traits, and 2024 is the Year of the Dragon. 

The Year of the Dragon symbolizes power, nobility, honor, luck and success and brings about new opportunities, changes and challenges, according to China Highlights

Grace Gong, president of the Chinese American Student Association (CASA), said this is a time to bring people together. CASA is a student organization serving the Chinese community on campus. 

“It’s a huge celebration of the things that make any culture the way it is and celebrating the values that have shaped us into the people we are today,” Gong said. 

CASA held its annual Lunar New Year celebration in the Great Hall of Coffman Union on Sunday to bring the Chinese community together, especially students who are unable to celebrate with their families. 

“They can come and still feel that sense of community and know that they’re celebrating something that’s very close to their home traditions,” Gong said. 

CASA’s celebration consisted of dance performances, food served potluck-style and traditional activities such as calligraphy writing and face painting. 

“We’re super lucky to be on a campus where there is so much diversity,” Gong said. “You get to build this large network in which everyone is interrelated in some way.”  

Gong said Lunar New Year connects everyone in her family regardless of distance and language barriers. Gong’s extended family lives in China, and she said her family will call them via Zoom to join their celebrations. 

“There’s oftentimes a big language barrier and it can be hard to talk about certain things with your relatives when you have that barrier,” Gong said. “Because Chinese New Year is a joint, shared activity, you have more things to talk about.” 

For Chloe Desierto, a first-year student and graphic designer for the Hong Kong Student Association (HKSA), celebrating Lunar New Year will feel different this year than others because she will be observing it in the United States for the first time. 

“In Hong Kong, it was a time to celebrate it with family,” Desierto said. “I haven’t celebrated it since I moved here, so having it at this time feels like I’m celebrating it again for the first time and it feels nostalgic.” 

HKSA hosted a different Lunar New Year event on Friday at Bruininks Hall that included board games, calligraphy writing and a fundraiser, according to Desierto. 

Since moving to the U.S. and having family ties in Hong Kong and the Philippines, Desierto said she is happy she found a group of people on campus to connect with. She found out about HKSA after its marketing director, Celine Hui, reached out to her. 

“I haven’t met anyone from Hong Kong since I moved here,” Desierto said. “It’s really nice to talk to someone in Cantonese and have a conversation about our experiences.” 

Hui said that during Lunar New Year, honoring her ancestors is important in addition to celebrating with immediate family. 

“For me, Lunar New Year means gathering of family, but also wishing happiness and giving gratitude to the last year,” Hui said. 

Hui got emotional when talking about the meaning of having a Hong Kong community on campus to celebrate the new year, adding that the community feels like home to her. 

“It’s the first time that it’s sounded like home and family,” Hui said. “I’ve never met anyone else that spoke Cantonese and that I can get along with.” 

Many people have different traditions during Lunar New Year, such as making food with family or receiving monetary gifts. 

Gong said she wants to introduce Lunar New Year to as many people as possible because they may not be familiar with the traditions and celebrations of the holiday. 

“People know it exists, but they don’t really know what it consists of or why we do it,” Gong said. “I think a lot of people are lik,e ‘Why would you have a different new year that’s on a different day than Jan. 1?’” 

Gong said Lunar New Year has a larger meaning than what it may sound like. 

“I want to emphasize that Lunar New Year is about celebrating the new year,” Gong said. “It’s even more so about unity, bringing people together, eating good food and watching good performances.” 

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