International students reminisce about Lunar New Year in China

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International communication studies fresh- man Evelyn Chen (left) and international business fresh- man Clem- entine Zhang (right) stand with Lunar New Year banners in Littlefield Dormitory on Wednesday. 

Photo Credit: Betsy Joles | Daily Texan Staff

Even though Evelyn Chen, international communications studies freshman, moved to America four years ago, she honors the tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year with close family by spending it with her closest friends and eating dumplings while watching TV as they once used to in China.

“(Lunar New Year) means family, unification,” Chen, a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said. “It is not like we don’t get together with the family very often besides Lunar New Year, but it is different. You just want to (be with) all members of the family, and it doesn’t really matter what you do or where to eat, you just want to give each other the best wish for the new year and treasure the time you spend together.”

Lunar New Year is mainly celebrated in East and Southeast Asia and marks the end of winter by the Chinese agricultural calendar. The celebration includes traditional foods, like dumplings and gluttonous rice cake, and lasts from three to five days. This year, it will be celebrated on Jan. 28 and marks the beginning of the year of
the rooster. 

Camilla Hsieh, Asian studies senior lecturer, said the Lunar New Year and its traditions date back to ancient times, when China was a farming based society. 

“When China was an agrarian society, people would not be working (during) the winter time,” Hsieh said. “We call Lunar New Year the spring festival because it’s the first day of spring. To prepare for it, everybody does a thorough cleanup of the house. If you owe any money, you have to pay or the debtor can come and collect debt until the last day, New Year’s Eve, and after that you have to wait until the next year, even the debtor.” 

Hsieh said her family in Taiwan would try to come together every year and take part in their own special traditions. 

“On the first day of the new year, my mother would cut (red paper) into sizes, and we used a brush to write good things,” Hsieh said. “One of the first characters you write for the new year means your studies will go well, and you will have good grades. You could also write your wish for the year.”

The first Lunar New Year Clementine Zhang, international business freshman, remembers was spent with her grandparents, watching TV and eating. In China, Zhang said traditions include buying new clothes and hanging couplets, called chunlian, for good fortune in the new year.

“It is very important to buy clothes because we have the tradition to have everything new for the new year,” Zhang said. “I think (the biggest traditions) is the couplets. It is one of the necessary things to do, like the traditional decoration. It basically means we are sending the past year away and we welcome the new year.”

Though they’ll be spending the new year in America with friends, Chen and Zhang said they will be missing their families and their traditions this year, especially the food.

“You don’t have that much choice,” Zhang said. “You don’t have your grandma’s favorite dish. You can’t make something like what she made. The taste of home.”