Home Away From Home: Celebrating Lunar New Year in the States

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by Sharmin Shanur

To many Americans who are not familiar with the Lunar New Year, it is just a day where dragons of all shapes and colors, vibrant fireworks and brilliant fan dancers come together to celebrate the changing phases of the moon.  It might seem like another trivial event like Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving, but for the Chinese international students here on campus, the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the greatest celebrations of the year. To them, the Spring Festival is a time to rejoice and celebrate the rich culture of China — it is not simply another festival that they can overlook.

Chinese international students on campus certainly miss the celebratory nature of the Spring Festival. According to Stevenson Li, a freshman at UCI, the awe-inspiring nature of Chinese festivities “is just not something you can get here in the U.S. — it’s not the same.”

Although Li has been living in the U.S. for two years, every time the Spring Festival comes around, he can’t help but reminisce about the excitement he felt as a young child and how he would look forward to the pocket money he’d received in decorated red envelopes from his elders. “Obviously, I don’t get that here,” sighed Li. The yearly supply of money is certainly something Li loved, but he also noted that he yearns for the parade of people dressed in red on the streets of his hometown and the numerous fireworks that would erupt on the eve of the Spring Festival. “In China,” Li noted, “red is a lucky color,” and everyone in China decorates their homes in red hoping to start  the  New Year with a bit of good luck.

Sisi Chen, who was sitting across from Li, could not help but smile at his remarks. She, too, misses the convivial atmosphere of China, but as a foreign exchange student who has lived in the U.S. for four years, her memories of the Lunar New Year have faded quite a bit. For Chen, the most memorable aspect of the Lunar New Year was  getting together with family, watching television, and having an enormous family dinner.

Xinyue Han, who’s  only spent about six months in the U.S., could not agree more with this statement. This is the only time of the year Han can see extended family members and actually have meaningful interactions with them. For Han, this is the only heart-shattering part of having to spend the Lunar New Year here in the U.S. She simply can’t imagine not seeing her cousins, whom she has not seen for almost a year.

The pain in their eyes suggested that these Chinese International students were heartbroken upon missing China’s Spring Festival. However, they were all hopeful that they could create their own traditions here on UCI’s campus. Li plans on celebrating with some of his Chinese friends by attending some regional Chinese festivals in Irvine or even trying to make a home-cooked meal. Chen hopes that an intimate dinner with her close friends can fill the void of not having a large dinner with family. As for Han, she might just go to the Golden Dragon Parade in Los Angeles. Although they all yearn to go back to China sooner or later, they certainly want to make the best of their time here in the U.S. Hopefully they’ll be able to have fun along the way.

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