January 23 not only marked the beginning of the semester, but also Lunar New Year.
Red envelopes, dancing dragons and firecrackers are some of the images associated with this Chinese celebration, but there are multiple ways to celebrate the holiday.
Allison Wang, President of the International Student Association (ISA) said that in China everyone has the first week off so most people travel to spend Chinese New Year with parents and relatives. They eat traditional dishes, play games and receive money to spread good fortune.
In San Francisco, Wang said the holiday feels like any other day. “Chinese New Year is [supposed to be] based on family. Just like Christmas,” she said.
Greeting people with the phrase “Gong Hei Fat Choi!” meaning, “Congratulations and wishing you prosperity!” is the cheerful message heard during Chinese New Year.
In China, families hug each other and visit friends to voice wishes of good luck and prosperity.
However people who are not near their family during the holiday are increasingly expressing their felicitations via text.
Dr. Xiaoxin Wu, director of the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at USF said, “I have observed that instead of a physical courtesy visit, people send text messages. The more text messages you receive the better it is. People always try to jump on the bandwagon to be the first one to send [their] best. It is a social phenomenon.”
President of the Chinese Students Scholars Association (CSSA), George Zhao said he is not surprised by the new trend.
“It’s a traditional and modern culture mixed together. I live in the US and my friends live in China. I cannot visit them. So I have to use modern technologies to send my traditional wishes.”
Historically, the Lunar New Year marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. However, Dr. Xiaoxin Wu, director of the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at USF, said the traditional myth associated with the Lunar New Year holds little relevance for people today.
As the fable goes Dr. Wu said, “There is a mythical figure by the name of Nian. Every year he would come to the Earth. People would put food outside of their doors so that this beast would eat what [was] prepared instead of eating people.”
Every year is also defined by an animal of the Chinese zodiac. This year is marked as the year of the dragon.
Similar to astrological signs, every year corresponds with one of twelve Chinese zodiac animals. Each animal carries characteristics that reflect the personalities and fortune of people born that year.
“It’s the start of the new year just like the way people celebrate the first of January. If last year was bad for you this year will be good for you. Every year you get more luck,” said Erwina Kwan, Public Relations Liaison for the Asian Pacific Islander American Student Coalition (APASC).
Anyone born under this animal, Wu said, “is a powerful figure and quite enthusiastic. If someone was born under the year of the dragon this person may have a potential for success.”
Kwan added it is believed people romantically compatible with those born the year of the dragon will have good luck with that person in the coming year.
Wang, who grew up in Shanghai also said, “In ancient times all the [rulers of] empires were called the real kids of dragons so they had the top authority [over] other people.”
Those born this year or during a year that is a multiple of twelve, possess qualities associated with the dragon which include a headstrong personality and a compassionate heart.
Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration is also often referred to as the Spring Festival, which concludes with a lantern festival. During this time young children are given paper lanterns with riddles to solve.
Although the celebration date varies according to the cycle of the moon, Lunar New Year typically falls between late January and mid-February.
Those who are in San Francisco and may be far away from their families have the opportunity to attend the Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown February 11.
“[The parades] give more passion for Chinese or non-Chinese to join together and have fun .To learn more in a pretty good atmosphere,” Wang said.
However, she added that parades aren’t very common in China. Most people usually spend the holiday with their family.
The CSSA at USF will also provide a space to celebrate on campus. They will be hosting a Chinese New Year Gala Friday, February 3. The evening event is expected to be an informative night about traditional and modern Chinese culture in addition to dance performances.
New year celebrations, whether celebrated on the first of January or not offer an opportunity to reflect on the past and create new goals. This means that regardless whether you were born during the zodiac year of the dragon, 2012 can still be a year that brings you prosperity.