Lunar New Year celebrations generally evoke images of fireworks, mountains of delicious food, and a table surrounded by family. In most East Asian countries, Lunar New Year is the largest and most important holiday of the year. Unfortunately, on Lunar New Year’s Eve this year, Cambridge was engulfed by the snowstorm Nemo, and students were trapped within the confines of their residences. Yet on this dreary February 9th evening, Ashdown House was hosting a Lunar New Year celebration, co-sponsored by ARCADE (Assisting Recurring Cultural And Diversity Events).
Free food is always attractive, not to mention in the middle of such a monstrous snowstorm. Not serving pizza? Even better! Before the scheduled start of the event, serpentine lines had already formed outside of the Hulsizer Room in Ashdown. At 6 p.m. the doors opened, revealing streamers along the ceiling, bright red and gold decorations along the walls, and even some strings of toy fireworks. The sound of cheery New Year’s music drifted through the halls.
Close to 250 students crowded into the room with a fervor that was reminiscent of the travel rush to return home during Lunar New Year in China. In front of their eyes lay a feast (by student standards, of course): fried rice, a selection of chicken, pork and vegetable dumplings, and an assortment of side dishes, including steamed buns. Asians and non-Asians alike were delighted and impressed by the quality and quantity of food. “I can’t believe a student-organized residence event has vegetarian options!” remarked an excited attendee.
Shockingly, the celebration didn’t just end with the food. Along the side of the room were three stations, all showcasing different traditions during Lunar New Year: papercutting, Chinese calligraphy, and dumpling making. Chinese paper cutting, or jianzhi, is the art form of cutting intricate designs of auspicious Chinese characters or zodiac animals from thin paper (generally in red, which symbolizes good fortune). Since paper was invented in China, jianzhi is the first type of papercutting design. Jianzhi are frequently adorned along walls, windows or doors for good luck. In addition to jianzhi, idioms and auspicious words written in calligraphy on red paper also decorate the walls of homes during New Year’s. One student masterfully painted out an idiom in Chinese Calligraphy “Tian Dao Chou Qin,” meaning “Heaven rewards the diligent.”
In China, the entire extended family gathers together and makes dumplings at this time of the year. In this event, attendees were able to try their hand at making pork or vegetable dumplings and bring them home to cook later. Additional fun came in the raffle for red envelopes, which is a customary gift from elders in the family to younger generations on occasions such as New Year’s (Amazon gift cards were substituted for money).
There couldn’t have been a more joyous and festive atmosphere on campus during the remnants of a snowstorm. Many East Asian international students were excited to participate in activities they never imagined they would have outside of their countries. The event evoked memories of home and furthermore, it allowed them to share the experience of Lunar New Year with their peers.