Red lanterns and red envelopes: Vassar students celebrate Lunar New Year

Members of the Chinese Students’ Community dressed in their lucky color red and together welcomed the start of the Year of the Dog.

While Valentine’s Day swept Vassar’s students up in celebrations of love and friendship last week, the Asian community on campus was busy planning events for the Lunar New Year while giving and receiving classic rose bouquets. Observed by Vietnam, Korea, China and many other East and Southeast Asian nations, the holiday, which officially fell on Feb. 16 this year, is one of the largest celebration of the year. To commemorate the beginning of the zodiac Year of the Dog, students planned a weekend full of festivities and fun.

The celebration kicked off with the Chinese Students’ Community (CSC)’s Lunar New Year event on Thursday night. Traditionally, the Lunar New Year’s Eve is the time for families to join together after a hard year of work for a feast. On this night, students gathered in the ALANA center to cook and eat traditional foods and gather as a community.

As a rerun of chun jie wan hui (China Central Television New Year’s Gala, something similar to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve) played on the TV in the background, students huddled around tables to make dumplings. Others chatted while waiting in line for food.

CSC Vice President Yunhao Cai ’19 shared, “We ordered Formosa food, but the highlight was indeed the handmade dumplings. It is a tradition for family members to get together and make dumplings during Spring Festival.”

“Because we are all away from home, it was really nice that CSC organized this event,” said Maggie Chen ’20, an international student from China.

“We had a chance to catch up with each other and spend the New Year together,” Cai agreed. “By holding this event, as well as other culture-related events throughout the year, we want to create an environment for students who are away from home to bond and share some common feelings about their memories of home.”

There was a large assortment of dishes available and the dumpling assembly line was churning out piece after piece ready to be cooked up for consumption.

“The food was delicious!” said Chen. “We had tang yuan (glutinous rice dumplings in sweet soup), shui zhu yu (Sichuan fish stew), Mapo tofu and an assortment of stir-fried vegetables. It was really cute that everyone had a chance to make dumplings together and they turned out great.”

CSC also organized activities for students to do to feel more at home. Walking in the door, there was immediately a table of red envelopes with Rabbit candies inside. “Everyone received a red packet with a slip of paper inside. At the end of the event, there was a lottery for a few dog plushies. Unfortunately, I didn’t win one,” Chen laughed.

Even after dinner, several students stayed behind to continue watching the TV program, chatting, snacking on sunflower seeds and playing Mahjong.

Two days later, the celebration continued with the Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA)’s Lunar New Year Dinner. As a larger organization with a larger event, ASA held the dinner in the Villard Room, which was packed full of large round tables and food.

The dinner, planned by ASA in collaboration with CSC and Southeast Asian Students’ Alliance (SEASA), boasted a variety of foods, along with performances and activities such as a dog-themed photo booth.

“There was Thai tea, scallion pancakes, chicken, fish-balls, fried rice and more⎯I think some of the food was even handmade,” Linh Phương ’20 noted.

Tanya Kotru Gode ’20, an international student from New Delhi, India, agreed. “The food was amazing! You wouldn’t think they cooked it themselves. I especially liked the dumplings.”

Highlights from the event included a vocal performance, with piano accompaniment, of Ngô Thụy Miên’s Vietnamese love song “Niệm Khúc Cuối” by Phương and Khánh Ly Nguyen ’19 [Full Disclosure: Nguyen is Social Media Editor of The Miscellany News] and Joshua Kim ’20’s vocal performance of two songs, one in Korean and one in Chinese.

Attendees of ASA and CSC’s dinners applauded the events. Kotru Gode remarked, “I don’t celebrate Lunar New Year in my country, but it was great to see the level of celebration we had at Vassar, and to see Vassar students acknowledged this festival that’s big for many Asian countries!”

“Personally I felt the event helped foster a sense of community and brought people closer,” Phương stated. “It’s amazing to have a space where we can celebrate our rich and diverse cultures and introduce them to other students. It’s my second Lunar New Year away from home and this event makes me feel less homesick.”

Chen agreed. “My family, including my aunts and uncles and grandparents, sent me pictures of all of the food they were eating for Lunar New Year’s Eve,” she said. “I felt like I was missing out on a great meal. It made me a little sad to go to the Deece. But being able to celebrate at school definitely eased my pain.”

Echoing both of Phương’s and Chen’s sentiments, Andrew Luo ’21 remarked, “During the Spring Festival celebration, I got to see many of my friends that I haven’t seen for a while. Celebrating the holidays with my friends definitely made it better, especially since this was my first one away from home. Spending the New Year away from home is not easy. It feels just like spending Thanksgiving without family. CSC created a really close-knit community, and I really appreciate that.”

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