Emcees for the Lehigh University Chinese Students and Scholars Association's Spring Festival Gala are recognized on stage on February 2nd, 2019, in Baker Hall. The Lunar New Year, which celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the lunar calendar, is an important celebration in a majority of Asian communities. (Courtesy of Zoe Topaz)

Lehigh students ring in the Lunar New Year

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For many students on campus, Tuesday, Feb. 5, marked the end of the frosty days with warm temperatures and the beginning of spring. For some, it marked the Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year is the celebration of a year in which months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon. The year 2019 is the year of the pig, which symbolizes wealth and fortune as indicated by its large ears and rotund cheeks.

“Lunar New Year was literally the most exciting time for me because it was probably the only holiday my parents actually celebrated since we didn’t really do Christmas or any other major U.S. holidays,” said Andy Weng, ’19, about his upbringing. “We would go to the store (during Lunar New Year), and my parents would buy me whatever candy I wanted, which never happened.”

The Lehigh University Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s Spring Gala on Friday, Feb. 1, in Baker Hall, was a taste of home and an opportunity to celebrate Lunar New Year with the Lehigh community.

Red packets with coupons and lottery tickets were handed out as the attendees were greeted down a hallway festooned with gold calligraphy on bright red garlands. The gala opened with a traditional number, in which dancers dressed in red and white performed to Chinese folk music.

There were also theme songs from television shows and films by Yong Jin, a novelist pioneered in wuxia — a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.

Cadence Tam, ’21, said Lunar New Year is a rare, yet wonderful moment for her family members in Chongqing, China, to get together and reflect on the past year. Tam’s family serves fish, which is associated with good luck, and dumplings, which denote wealth because their shape resembles old-fashioned Chinese gold and silver ingots.

Red is commonly part of the new year because it symbolizes good fortune and joy.

“My family has a tradition of buying red underwear, red pajamas and red everything,” Tam said. “You have to wear red!”

Asian communities make up nine percent of the Lehigh population and celebrate the new year in their own way — from simply calling family and friends, eating traditional food or attending festivals and galas.

“I miss getting some small injections of money around this time, and actually I don’t know when I’m supposed to start giving out the red packets, but I’m not looking forward to doing that,” Weng said.

For Lunar New Year in Vietnam, Linh Pham, ’20, said she and her family usually go to the flower market to choose a peach blossom, which needs to be plucked two weeks prior so that it blooms just in time for the new year.

The peach blossom’s light and ethereal shade of thulian pink signals a year filled with fresh starts in Vietnamese culture.

“I was not a big fan of Lunar New Year because it was such a busy time, and you have to do a lot of cooking and cleaning,” Pham said. “But now since I’m away from home, I actually miss that feeling.”

Alternatively, Myunggee Sung, ’22, said the highlight of Lunar New Year in Korea is the ritual of reverence for ancestors. A highly structured meal of liquor, fruit and vegetables among other varieties is prepared prior to when children bow to their elders as a gesture of respect.

In Hong Kong, adults and elders handed out red packets of money as a means of transferring their fortune to their beloved minors, Tam said. It is a tradition for the minors to return their felicitations within four words.

Lunar New Year for Lehigh students is an opportunity for them to cherish their family and friends.

Tam said she felt isolated and lonely during the Lunar New Year when she was a first-year student.

“Here, you have to go very much out of your way to join clubs and organizations that hold events. However, I have found my own group of friends who also celebrate this, and I feel secure knowing that they are going through the same thing,” Tam said.

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