Campus Celebrates Lunar New Year


On Jan. 20, students gathered in Reed to observe an important Lunar New Year tradition, including a six-foot dancing lion.

The Lunar New Year, which was on Jan. 22 this year, marks the first day of the Lunar calendar. It is a major holiday observed by many cultures in Asia and all over the world. The Lunar New Year is usually celebrated for multiple days, including the day before the new year and the first three days after the new year. 2023 is the year of the rabbit, or the year of the cat in Vietnam.

One of the most important Lunar New Year traditions is the lion dance, which brings good luck and prosperity for the rest of the year. The Asian Alliance Club organized a lion dance performance on Jan. 20, with food from Oriental Taste, a Chinese restaurant in Northampton, Mass.

Adorned with “fai chuns,” red papers with auspicious phrases written on them with calligraphy ink, and rows of lights, the lower level of Reed was transformed into a stage for the lion dance. There were a variety of traditional dishes, including Sichuan-style chicken, spring rolls, dumplings, fried rice, and turnip cake.

Senior Hira Asghar from Hershey, Penn., is the leader of the Asian Alliance Club. She was surprised at the substantial turnout.

“I honestly thought only two people were going to show up,” she said. “More than 50 people came to see the performance and we ran out of food by the end of it.”

The Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of Boston performed a traditional dragon dance and martial arts display for an eager audience. Highlights from the performance included students being showered with “lucky lettuce” and the water rabbit toss. At the end of the performance, the group wished Williston a prosperous year and blessed the campus with good luck.

The Asian Alliance Club chose the Wah Lum Kung Fu group because they had an extensive background performing at schools, banquets, grand-openings, and other large-scale events.

Senior Tu Thieu from Hanoi, Vietnam, expressed the difficulties of organizing this campus-wide event. Tu is also the leader of the Asian Alliance Club.

“We originally wanted [Wah Lum] to perform at assembly, but they were only available in the evening” she said. “We called other lion dance groups but most were fully booked in the days leading up to the new year.”

Overall, the lion dance was a success, and was received with excitement from the audience. Nat Simpson, the International Student Coordinator and Language Department Head, was amazed by the lion’s lifelike demeanor.

“I had to remind myself that there were two people in the lion costume because it was so realistic,” he said.

Wakanda Hu, a freshman from Guangdong, China, enjoyed the performance as well.

“I think the celebration went really well!” she said. “I’m so happy we got to see a lion dance. It’s something from my culture and it reminded me of home.”

Andrew Yu-Hwang, a senior from Hong Kong and co-leader of the Asian Alliance Club, emphasized the value of family during the new year.

“For me, Lunar New Year is a time when I get to spend quality time with family,” he said. “It’s difficult being away from home during this important time.”

“I called my mom and my aunt to wish them a happy new year, but it’s not the same as celebrating with them in person,” he added.

A sophomore who wished to remain anonymous thought the school could have done more to facilitate the Lunar New Year celebration.

“The administration doesn’t seem to take the Lunar New Year as seriously as Christmas, for example,” he said. “The school often neglects to acknowledge important holidays for international students, leaving the job up to us. It’s not our job to educate the school about the Lunar New Year.”

For next year’s Lunar New Year celebration, Simpson looks forward to events involving the entire Williston community, and more individualized celebrations for each country.

“I anticipate an all-school assembly with the lion dance followed by personal reflections on the importance and practices of the LNY in different countries,” he said. “I hope to either send a group of students to Boston to celebrate the day or have an on-campus event similar to this year’s event but more student-centered, with each country representing itself in some unique way at the event.”

The countries that observe Lunar New Year are China, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

The Lunar New Year has been celebrated since the fourteenth century B.C., and it signals the arrival of spring. According to Yong Chen, a UC Irvine associate professor of history and Asian American studies, “This holiday has ancient roots in China as an agricultural society. It was the occasion to celebrate the harvest and worship the gods and ask for good harvests in times to come. It became a national holiday during the Han dynasty, when the government issued a new calendar.”

A popular Chinese legend is that every year, a fearsome creature called Nian comes to terrorize people. Every household would put up red paper, wear red clothes, and create loud sounds with drums, firecrackers, and fireworks to scare the beast away. The color red is known to ward off evil spirits and cleanse a house of bad luck.

In the days leading up to the new year, families thoroughly clean their houses and decorate their walls with red couplets to prepare for the upcoming year. On New Year’s Eve, there is a reunion dinner where tang yuan, glutinous rice balls with a sweet filling, is served.

On the day of the new year, people visit their relatives and close friends with gifts and well wishes. Elders and married couples give children red envelopes of money. Families gather for several days to share meals together and play mahjong.

Some Lunar New Year superstitions are not washing your hair or sweeping the floor on the first day of the year, to avoid depleting your luck. One should also be careful not to say unlucky words like “death,” break dishes, or wear unlucky colors, such as white or black, to prevent misfortune from pervading the new year.

Popular Lunar New Year foods include nian gao (glutinous rice cakes), whole fish, dumplings, tangerines, fat choy (sea moss), and a variety of sweets.

As fat choy is extremely difficult to cultivate and harvesting it leads to desertification, China’s State Council banned the harvest and sale of it in 2000. However, fat choy is still in high demand and is readily available on the black market. A majority of Cantonese families still see the sought-after delicacy on their dinner table every year.

Each year is represented by one of the twelve zodiac animals. The Chinese zodiac includes the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig, respectively. There is a slight variation in Vietnam, with the Cat replacing the Rabbit and the Buffalo replacing the Ox.

The 12 Chinese zodiac animals are in a fixed sequence because of a story that originated more than 2,000 years ago in the Qin dynasty. The Jade Emperor, the supreme ruler of the heavens, invited all animals to participate in a great race to determine who could reach his palace first. The first twelve animals to arrive would be granted the honor of having a place in the Chinese zodiac.

Before the zodiac race, the Cat and the Rat were the best of friends. However, when both of them were crossing the river on the Ox’s back, the Rat pushed the Cat into the water. As a result, the Cat was unable to get to the Heavenly Gate in time and is not in the Chinese zodiac.

Another version of the story is that the Rat promised to wake the Cat up in time for the competition, but instead of keeping to its word, the Rat quietly snuck out the next morning. By the time the Cat woke up, it was too late and the zodiac race had already ended.

Ever since the Rat’s betrayal, cats and rats have had a divisive rivalry, translating into rats being scared of cats’ revenge and cats’ aversion to water.

Like Western astrology, different combinations of Chinese zodiac signs give rise to different relationship dynamics and personalities. Here is your fortune for 2023 based on your zodiac animal.

(Note that the start of the zodiac year falls on the first day of the Lunar New Year, so if you were born in early to mid-January in 2007, you are a Dog instead of a Pig.)

Rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020):

You are quick-witted and fun to be around. This year, be cautious and don’t jump into things head on. Try to keep your living space organized, as you tend to be a hoarder. Avoid getting into romantic entanglements and do not get pregnant this year. Make use of your free time wisely.

Ox (1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021):

Your year will be full of luck! You will experience success both in the workplace and in romantic pursuits. Your down-to-earth and reliable nature will serve you well in your endeavors. Embark on that long-term project you’ve been wanting to start!

Tiger (1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022):

This year will be a year of overcoming adversity for you. Though your academic or workplace performance may decline, you will develop perseverance and learn from your mistakes. Avoid buying things you don’t need and consider adopting a more nutritious diet. Pursue your passion and try new hobbies!

Rabbit (1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023):

This is your year! Unfortunately, your “origin of life year” brings bad luck, as you have offended the god of age in Chinese mythology, Tai Sui. Be adaptable to frequent changes this year. Communicate your feelings tactfully and don’t be afraid to speak the truth. Avoid getting married this year. To bring more good luck, wear red underwear and socks.

Dragon (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012):

You are the most coveted zodiac sign, as Chinese people are seen as the descendants of the dragon, with the emperor being the human incarnation of one. Don’t lose focus this year and stay on task. Be careful not to let your righteousness get in the way of understanding people around you.

Snake (1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013):

Slithering into 2023 smoothly, you’ll see yourself succeeding in your workplace. Save up your salary instead of spending it right away. Sustain a work-life balance and exercise often. Single Snakes should seek out a significant other through social events. This year, your health may suffer. Take preventative measures and stay safe out there!

Horse (1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014):

This year could go one way or the other. Be meticulous and pay attention to detail. If you are involved in the arts, your year will be successful and you will reap rewards. Have patience and be on the lookout for opportunities.

Goat (1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015):

This year will be a busy year for you. You may be more of a follower than a leader, but don’t be afraid to speak up and stand your ground. Don’t make risky investments and choose conservative financial management plans. Look beyond the surface and see others for who they are. Take care of your health and rely on those you trust.

Monkey (1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016):

Just like a monkey, you are full of mischievous energy and wit. Beware of conflicts in interpersonal relationships. As you focus on yourself more, your confidence will increase. Though you thrive in fast-paced environments and high pressure, don’t put yourself under too much stress. Remember to take breaks when you need it!

Rooster (1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017):

Prepare for challenges ahead. You will be prone to bankruptcy this year and you are at risk of losing your job. You may also suffer from chronic pains and diseases. However, your love life will be robust and fruitful. Get adequate rest and make smart decisions.

Dog (1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018):

You are fiercely loyal and a great friend to have. Your energy and optimism will bring joy to those around you. Lean into your heightened creativity this year and have more faith in yourself. If you experience stress, spend more time in nature. Take risks!

Pig (1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019):

This is a lucky year for you! You will gain a lot of wealth and your hard work will be recognized. This is a good year to get married and your familial relations will be harmonious. Take initiative and cherish your friendships.