Amid the din of firecrackers, the old year is over
“Amid the din of firecrackers, the old year is over; the winds of spring bring warmth to the houses of civilians. To every home, the sun imparts its brighter rays; old peach wood charms against evil are replaced by new ones.”
This poem, 元日 Yuan Ri, comes from the Chinese poet Anshi Wang, illustrating the joy and tradition of the Lunar New Year. As a different calendar system from the daily calendar, many countries in Asia celebrate a special day on the Lunar calendar, the day when a new year starts. Lunar New Year marks the beginning of a new cycle and a year older, regardless of their actual birthday. Whether born at the end of a year or in the middle of a hot summer, many countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year follow the tradition of every citizen growing a year older when the new year passes. As a holiday celebrated among multiple countries in Asia, different traditions and stories form within the different cultures.
China celebrates Lunar New Year with a pleasant dinner with family on New Year’s Eve. For families in the Northern regions of China, the family would make dumplings together and put a coin in one of the dumplings. The coin symbolizes great wealth given to the one who finds the coin in their dumpling. In some other regions, it is also said that washing hair on a particular day would secure the fortune for the upcoming year. This year, it is on Saturday, January 21, New Year’s Eve. Other events prior to New Year’s day include cleaning the whole house, cutting paper, setting off firecrackers and fireworks, and giving red envelopes to the minors.
The origins of these traditions cannot be found precisely. However, myths have existed and been passed down for generations: There were once two monsters called Nian 年 and Sui 岁 who kidnaped children and haunted families. Before knowing the correct method, people would stay up all night to 守岁 ( wait for Sui) to protect their families. But soon later, a group of people noticed Nian and Sui’s weaknesses. Nian is afraid of the color red and the loud noises from the firecrackers, while Sui won’t approach children if it sees money on them. This myth forms the traditions of wearing red clothes, red envelopes, and lighting fireworks in these modern days. On the exact New Year’s Day, some families would eat rice cakes or dumplings. Bigger families would visit each other's houses and give red envelopes to more distant relatives.
“Some traditions are well preserved, like red envelopes. However, traditions like lighting fireworks and firecrackers are disappearing as some cities are now forbidding them due to safety and environmental issues” —Vivian Kou
Learning the New Year traditions from Korean international student Wonjin Eum, Lunar New Year is the most significant opportunity for family gatherings in Korea. Families would travel to their grandparents' houses and spend the holiday together. One of the biggest traditions for Koreans during the Lunar New Year is eating Tteokguk, a rice cake soup. The cultural background behind this tradition is that eating one bowl of Tteokguk represents getting a year older. With this background, some children will eat more than one bowl of Tteokguk as they believe this will make them older.
“They would eat two bowls or three bowls and think that this will make them two years or three years older. But that’s definitely not how it works” —Wonjin Eum
With many other traditions still preserved for Lunar New Year in Korea, this holiday becomes one of the most important holidays. However, as time passes, some traditions are slowly disappearing.
“In order to respect our ancestors, we would prepare ancestral rituals for them. For that, it needs a lot of preparations like food and setting, so people tend to skip this portion now. I personally feel this is kind of sad because this is the whole point of the family gathering traditions” —Wonjin Eum
Lunar New Year is a holiday celebrated by countries far more than China and Korea, holding their own cultures too. Singapore holds a tradition of Lo Hei, meaning tossing up good fortune with a raw fish salad dish. On the other hand, Thailand performs similar traditions to China, wearing red clothes and handing out ang pao (red envelopes).
While celebrating each country's own traditions back at borders hometown, Stevenson provides students with a combination of many traditions and food to celebrate this important holiday. Starting with weekend activities such as caligraphies to put on doors for Lunar New Year and decorating the dining hall with New Year decorations, boarders sense the importance and appreciation of their culture at school. Prior to the Monday Night celebration for the Lunar New Year, students helped to make dumplings in Rosen while enjoying their own traditions and introducing their own culture to others. Finally, during the big celebration, the formal dinner, students taste traditional food from many different countries, such as Mapo Tofu from the local Chinese restaurant Full moon to Korean Bulgogi, and Seaweed soup, finally to Singapore’s Lo Hei.
Boarders, here from the other side of the planet and separated from their families for New Year, find that Stevenson provides them a warm and welcoming environment to enjoy this holiday, inviting Lunar New Year devotees a chance to share a vital element of their home cultures. Though different from how they usually celebrate it, this special preparation still creates many memorable moments.