Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit

Bathed in a glowing red hue, a sea of joyous faces flow through the streets of Beijing. A rousing orchestra of noise brings the night to life — rhythmic thumping of drums, erratic crackles of firecrackers and the ringing of children’s laughter. Thickening the air is a rich aroma of toasted garlic, scallions and thousands of spices. Partakers are enthralled by each twist and turn from weaving lion dancers and dramatic flips of acrobats.

This is the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, or chun jie, a holiday celebrated by over two billion people across the globe. For 15 days, ordinary life in countries across Asia like China, Korea and Singapore comes to a standstill as families gather together to greet the beginning of spring. This year, the holiday falls on Jan. 26, marking the start of the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac cycle.

Originating about 3,500 years ago in China, the holiday is traditionally a time to celebrate the harvest and worship ancestors. Over the centuries, the festival has evolved into a multitude of variations, though the main values have remained intact. 

“The Lunar New Year usually means tradition to me,” AP Chinese student Zoe Huang (10) said. “It is because there are so many things from what we wear to the gifts we give that are steeped in superstition.”

A motif of kinship and familial harmony is infused into every aspect of the holiday, especially in the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, or nian ye fan. The kitchen is a place where the orthodox family values of Lunar New Year gatherings are honored.

Older generations instruct their children and grandchildren on the meticulous process of steaming fish, yu, and delicately rolling out long noodles, chang shou mian, while the young experiment with new flavors and create modern renditions of traditional favorites.   

For Julia Liu (12), the president of the TPHS Asian Student Union (ASU), food plays an integral role in conveying the main message of the Lunar New Year.

“My family always makes a huge feast the night before the new year,” Liu said. “We make dumplings by hand all together, which are a symbol of community.”

Loved ones join together to enjoy other activities as well: adorning homes with fiery red and gold decorative couplets, dui lian, reciting poetry and retelling ancestral myths. 

Rachel Yang (11) feels that these activities would be incomplete without close friends and family to enjoy them with. 

“I think you can really feel the true energy of Lunar New Year when you are around more people, witnessing all of the awesome activities,” Yang said.

Dong-Yeop (David) Lee (10) welcomes the Korean version of Lunar New Year, Seollal, similarly surrounded by loved ones, playing folk games and making New Year’s resolutions.

“In joy of the new year, my whole family comes together in unity,” Lee said. 

One of the most sacred activities seen across many variations of Lunar New Year is the gifting of little red pockets, hong bao, filled with money. These envelopes are usually given from elders to children, yet another instance of generational unity in Lunar New Year. 

The multi-generational connections made during the celebration of this rich festival serve as a touchstone for second-generation students living outside of their parents’ home country to connect with their heritage.

“This festival is really great because it is a chance to appreciate my culture, especially in the U.S. where I feel like a lot of children of immigrants may sometimes feel disconnected from their roots,” Cindy Xue (11) said.

In parallel, first-generation immigrant parents and adults    

see the Lunar New Year as an opportunity to pass down their traditions and values to their children and young community.

TPHS AP Chinese Language and Culture teacher Lu Qi honors the traditional values of the holiday by including them in activities like making dumplings.

“I want to pass down these traditions to my own children and my students because it is important that they value their culture and their self-identity,” Qi said. “It is very important to continue these traditions through generations and generations.”

On Jan. 20, the ASU and Qi’s AP Chinese class organized a Lunar New Year celebration in the quad at lunch, setting up activities to teach students of all cultures about the festival. 

“I think people who don’t celebrate this holiday should still learn about it,” Liu said. “If you want to understand your community and its diversity, learning about Lunar New Year can help you do that.”

Whether at a traditional ceremony or a modernized celebration, Lunar New Year evokes the same feelings of togetherness and gratitude for all those who celebrate it. It is a commemoration of dualism, of change and continuity, of bringing together the old and the new. In a world that so often tears people apart, Lunar New Year shows us humans’ great capacity for love and community.

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