Lunar New Year: Celebrating the year of the rat

Illustration by Aleah Green

A long time ago, there lived a monster named “Nian,” or “Nian Shou,” who lived in the deep seas of China. The monster would come up once a year to create havoc among the villagers. Homes would be ripped apart and people would go missing. This is the story of Lunar New Year as told by China Highlights website.

One day, a wise old man told the villagers if they hung red banners around their doorways, lit candles in their homes, made loud noises and wore red, the monster would not harm them.

The villagers doubted the old man and left him to his own devices. While the old man followed his own instructions, the villagers hid in the mountains. The next day the villagers traveled down the mountain and were surprised to see the old man standing along with their homes.

This is one of many variations of how Lunar New Year came to be. While the western nations have known this event as Chinese New Year, this celebration is not just celebrated in China, thus a more accepted term is Lunar New Year.

According to National Geographic, Lunar New Year occurs every year and rather than using the Gregorian calendar to determine its date of celebration, it is determined by the moon phases and solar year, or the Lunisolar calendar.

National Geographic also stated that Lunar New Year is considered the planet’s largest annual migration of people. The migration happens because an important aspect of the celebration is to spend it with one’s family.

Sophomore Kyuca Yang, an international student from China, said the Chinese tradition is to visit houses of relatives during the Lunar New Year and people will give children lucky money, which is also referred to as a red envelope.

Yang said Lunar New Year is the biggest celebration in Chinese culture. She said people will usually receive a weeklong holiday to spend time with family and friends, but the new year will actually end on the 15th day.

This Lunar New Year began Jan. 25 and will end Feb. 12.

“We always have a big meal with my family the night before new year’s and we will wear new clothes,” Yang said. “We usually celebrate the new year in our own home. Family members will get together and have fun.”

Yang was unable to celebrate this Lunar New Year with her family, so she celebrated the holiday with her friends. Yang said she made dumplings with her friends in celebration of Lunar New Year.

There were events held on campus that students of all backgrounds could participate in to learn more about Lunar New Year and immerse themselves in celebratory activities. Destinee King, the coordinator for the Office of Inclusion, said the Multicultural and LGBTQIA Student Services had a weeklong display in its office to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

They also invited the Chinese Cultural Club to come and perform for the community. Chinese food and games were some of the many festivities enjoyed.

“The Office of Inclusion prides itself on having educational, engaging and fun events to celebrate and honor the different communities we serve on campus,” King said.

Another celebration held on campus occurred at The Hot Spot Jan. 29. Campus Dining invited students to celebrate Lunar New Year with Asian cuisine and a Chinese lion dance performance. The lion dance was performed by Sacred Mountain Kung Fu, a martial arts program that presents the lion dance for many events including weddings, grand openings and Lunar New Year.

Sifu Matthew Banks is a martial arts instructor at Sacred Mountain Kung Fu and said the performance of the lion dance has almost been a tradition at The Hot Spot, as this year marked their fifth year performing.

“The idea is to take out bad energy and put in new energy as we dance,” Banks said. “It includes big drums, big symbols and instrumentation. It’s really loud in order to chase away the bad energy and bring people in as well.”

Banks said that there are many stories in terms of the creation of the lion dance and how it came to be. One of those stories is about an emperor who had a dream that he was in dire trouble and there was no escape from the terrors attacking him. In the story, the emperor saw a bearded lion with horns that chased away the danger. When the emperor woke up, he started telling people this story. That’s when lions became a symbol of hope and good energy.

“Throughout history, lion dances have been used to bring new ideas of hope and rebirth going forward,” Banks said. “They are a cultural phenomenon.”

Lunar New Year is also associated with a different animal every year for a cycle of 12 years. The story of the zodiac also has many variations but as stated by China Highlights, it happened because of a race. The story said that long ago in ancient China, the Jade Emperor held a race and ruled that the first 12 animals to complete the race would be alotted one year named after it.

This Lunar New Year is named after the rat and will be named the rat once again in 12 years.

King said Lunar New Year and its festivities help define the culture of those who celebrate it. While food and festivities are important aspects, the event highlights the importance of culture and family.

“It is important to learn about other cultures because this world is full of so much color, beauty and life that it would be a waste to not be able to enjoy it,” King said. “In order to have a true sense of belonging, we need to understand all the places there are to belong to.”

The celebrations on campus offer food and fun activities, but Yang said they are also ways to inform students with varying understanding of Chinese culture and Chinese customs.

“Students can participate in the Chinese Students and Scholars Association activities and join the Chinese Culture Club,” Yang said. “There are many Asian students on campus so making friends with each other is a good way to be involved.”

The events on campus provided students who were unable to go home and celebrate Lunar New Year the opportunity to do so at school. It also provided students who did not celebrate Lunar New Year the opportunity to learn and take part in a cultural event.