As the most important festival in many Asian countries, the Lunar New Year is celebrated the world over. People in countries such as China, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam all celebrate the festival by returning to their hometowns and reuniting with their families.
For Chinese people, the most spectacular memory of the year is the Spring Festival. For one thing, it is the largest block of vacation time they get all year. China allows people seven to 10 days of vacation to spend time with family and friends and finally a chance to relax both their bodies and minds from the taxing workplace environment. On New Year’s Eve, families get together and have a sumptuous reunion feast.
Meanwhile, people usually watch the Spring Festival Gala, a nationally televised broadcast starring Chinese singers and celebrities. It has become an ingrained tradition in China on New Year’s Eve, with the audience being over 800 million. People also enjoy making dumplings and watching the fireworks outside. Lighting firecrackers is one of the customs during Spring Festival because people believe that the banging and popping can help drive away evil spirits.
For the following week, people visit their relatives and have dinner together. Children receive red packets (Hong Bao in Chinese) from their elders, which stands for good fortune. They also gather together to make paper lanterns, a decoration that is hung up on the front door. According to traditional Chinese astrology, 2018 is the year of dog; therefore, pet dogs can be seen in beautiful clothes eating delicious food with their masters. With all the auspicious blessings, Lunar New Year is the most important and happiest festival of all the traditional holidays.
At UCSB, there are thousands of students from Asian backgrounds who celebrate the Lunar New Year as well. On February 14, the Asian American Studies Department held its own New Year’s celebration.
In addition to the chance to grab some traditional Lunar New Year’s food like fried noodles, spring rolls, and dumplings, the event was also a chance to cross the cultural barrier and meet new people. For instance, I met Arlene Phillips, the business officer who helped organize the event.
She told me that my last name, Zhao, reminded her of Professor Xiaojian Zhao of the Asian American Department. “I know how to spell her name but I can’t read it correctly,” she said. “I always call her Jen, and I know it’s totally wrong. She knows, she knows when I call her like that.”
For me, I have been getting used to different variations of my name, but it is interesting to listen to people trying hard to pronounce an Asian name. Phillips is familiar with every professor in the department and many of the peer advisors, and it was comforting to see her passion for both the department and Asian culture.
Danna Ma, who I also met, is one of the peer advisors. She moved to Los Angeles with her family at age seven and has lived there ever since. Now a third year Asian American studies and financial math double major, Ma was also the presenter of the event. She said she plans to make the journey home “to celebrate Chinese New Year!”
In the U.S., some big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York have big events for Lunar New Year. Dragon shows, firework displays, traditional performances, and food tasting activities were successfully held for Asian people in the country.
In Santa Barbara, the atmosphere of Spring Festival is not strong. International students have their own communities to get in touch with, though they are rarely able to go back home in the middle of a school quarter.
On Saturday, I spent a whole afternoon preparing for the New Year dinner with friends. We celebrated and had a great time to deeply feel the sense of festival. During this nostalgic time, it was truly helpful to gather together with familiar friends. Yearning for our own mothers’ cooking, we attempted to make our own dishes. As we streamed the New Year’s Gala on YouTube, we settled into a more comfortable and familiar scene.
With such advanced technology nowadays, international students could easily video chat their parents on the other side of the ocean, sending and receiving the best wishes from their families. Many doors of the dorms and apartments in I.V. were decorated with paper cut-outs of dog and the fortune characters. Although our hometowns are far away from us, many UCSB students celebrate the Lunar New Year in their own ways to keep it alive in their memories.