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Several UC Irvine students and community members celebrated the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, on Monday, Jan. 23 to signify the beginning of a new annual cycle in accordance with the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The celebration gives many families the opportunity to come together and commemorate the arrival of spring, a tradition kept by many Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.

“It’s a celebration of thousands of years of tradition,” said Yue Ding, a fourth-year international studies major at UCI.

“I grew up in China for 12 years, and for me, it’s like the American Christmas. When I was little, Chinese New Year has always been the one holiday that everyone looks forward to having. It’s a time that brings family and friends together. People who you normally don’t see all year long or you don’t see as often will come and visit. It’s just a happy, friendly holiday season that lasts usually for 15 or 20 days.”

Participating families usually hold feasts and distribute red envelopes that are traditionally filled with crisp new money bills.

“What I looked forward to the most,” Ding continued, “was spending time with my cousins. To see all my families and friends all together at the same time, that was very special for me. The next day, you could go out with friends and spend the gift money however you like, that’s also the fun part. For a little kid, that meant a lot of independence and gave me a lot of power to enjoy my childhood.”

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. Superstition claims that those born with this sign are considered to be proud, respectable and strong of character, with the potential disposition to be conceited and ill-tempered. The dragon is the only sign in the Chinese zodiac associated with a mythical creature.

“I think that it’s a way to ensure that our culture doesn’t get lost,” said Anthony La, a fourth-year political science and criminology, law and society double major at UCI.

“We usually have a family gathering. We either go to my aunt’s house, or my aunts and uncle would come to our house. We might go to the Westminster area.”

Every year in Little Saigon, the people of the Vietnamese community in Westminster set up their tents for the preliminary festival leading up to the Lunar New Year’s Day parade. Here, merchants from local stores and even the local Buddhist temples set up shop, selling fruits, gifts, toys and plants of all types. Local kitchens and eateries pitch up vendor booths where huge cauldrons of porridges, eggs and escargots boil alongside racks of roasting skewered meats.

Nearby, nestled in the crowded alcoves and walkways and hidden in the front by a huge stall selling lucky money trees and bamboos, are gambling tables where games of Fish Prawn Crab, a Chinese dice game, are being played.

Toddlers, teenagers, adults and the elderly gather around the table, tossing dollars onto painted images, each corresponding to symbols on the dice.

Occasionally, a lucky winner will shout triumphantly and run with a handful of dollar bills to an old lady selling thick, mysterious red packages from a plastic grocery bag.

There, the winner purchases the longest strip of powerful (and illegal) firecrackers available and ignites it in the open space in front of the market. The cries of “Happy New Year!” can be heard amid the crackling of explosive powder, the applause of onlookers and the youthful cheers of countless little children.

Every night, the Westminster Police Department arrives in response to the firework explosions.Immediately, the gambling tables disappear, the firecrackers are extinguished and the crowds disperse, everyone walking around as if admiring the festival.

After some time passes, the sudden consecutive explosions of heavy and illegal firecrackers signal the absence of police, and the gambling tables are once again brought out as the New Year celebration continues.

For many Asian-American students here at UC Irvine, the approaching Lunar New Year signifies a time for new opportunities and new hopes.

“Every year, you grow up, you mature. You’re so much different from the last year. You learn so much,” La said.

“I got a car this year, I have my future planned out, I know what I want to do for sure now. My parents are healthy. Every year, we grow older and wiser, and I’m looking forward to it.”.

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