Dozens of USF students and staff filled Fromm Hall’s Xavier Chapel to celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, on Friday, Feb. 19. The festival was organized by the Chinese Student and Scholar Association to welcome the Year of the Tiger.
Visitors were greeted by a festive atmosphere and a night packed with performances and interactive activities. Slotted in among the many performances were a Chinese comic dialogue, musical performances, and a scene from a Chinese legend acted out as a romantic comedy by members of the Chinese Association. Festival attendees participated in a game of name-that-tune and a poetry competition.
Though 2010 officially began on Feb. 14 by the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese Association’s festival fell on the sixth day of the 15-day celebration, which culminates in the Lantern Festival. Throughout the evening, the audience was regaled with the origins and traditions of the Chinese New Year.
“The beginning of the Chinese New Year started with the fight against the beast Nien,” the emcee said. According to legend, she explained, Nien would pillage and destroy the villages, killing children and wrecking crops and livestock. After the monster had its fill, it would not return until the start of the next lunar year.
One year, some villagers noticed Nien fleeing from a child dressed in red. From this myth, the tradition of dressing and decorating in red and using firecrackers to celebrate the New Year was born: to keep the monster away.
Though traditions vary regionally, emphasis is placed on community and togetherness. The sharing of food, usually dumplings or rice cakes, and gift giving are both common practices throughout the Chinese community. The Chinese Association’s festival was no different, treating guests to a Chinese dinner and even asking guests to sport name tags to promote conversation. They served their purpose, as there was hardly a silence during the night. A low murmur of chatter punctuated every presentation and camera flashes bounced off of the bright walls of the room as students photographed their friends on stage.
Yue Song, the President of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, was pleased with the vibrant atmosphere of the festival after logging hours of work in the run-up to the celebration.
“We’ve spent a lot of time preparing. Last week, most of the performers were only getting five hours of sleep a night,” he said. “The celebration for the Chinese New Year is for China what Christmas is for the Western cultures,” a comparison that was made time and again. “It is the most important holiday for Chinese people,” Song reiterated.
Song was also impressed by the high level of attendance, joking that most friends “came for the Chinese food.” Song may have been on target with this, as students and faculty alike wandered from Xavier Chapel and into the foyer, finally retiring to the floor with plates buckling under the weight of dumplings and rice.
The majority of attendees, however, were Chinese students, highlighting the booming population of Chinese international students at USF. According to Song, Chinese students make up the largest chunk of the university’s pool of international students, roughly 250 strong.
For Song and the Chinese Association, the support of this student community by USF, a university renowned for its diversity, was very important to the success of the festival, which was the second of its kind in the past three years. Just as important was the support of the university’s president and figurehead, Father Stephen Privett, who was in attendance.
“USF has a large Chinese population, and it’s important to show them how much we appreciate them and how valued their culture is,” Privett said.
Song stressed that the event was not just an event for the Chinese community, pointing out the elements of other cultures in the festival and its modern undertones. Beyond its more traditional aspects, the program featured an appearance by the USF Hawaiian ensemble, a classical piano performance, and a jazz dance choreographed to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”
Senior Lina Calderón-Morin seconded this sentiment, arguing that this recognition of Chinese culture was tantamount to the appreciation of difference as a whole.
“I love Chinese New Year because it’s a celebration of life not just for the Chinese community, but a time when we can share and enjoy the rich diversity of our city and University,” Calderón-Morin said.
The event was co-sponsored by the Center for the Pacific Rim, International Relations, and the Chinese program.