Mary Li and Sharon are currently freshmen students at Michigan State University. Mary is majoring in education and Sharon is majoring in supply chain management. This year, they celebrated their first Chinese New Year away from home. Being international students, they had to stay up to call their families back home to wish them a Happy New Year.
I got the chance to sit down with them and ask them to share their experience on celebrating the traditional, joyous occasion that is very wel-known in Asia. And they had a lot to say.
Naina: How is Chinese New Year usually celebrated in China?
Sharon: It’s usually shopping for food, new clothes and decorations. We do the shopping a day before the New Year and everything is in red with gold.
Mary: Everything is in red or gold. And preparation for the Chinese New Year would involve feasts. Like, for my family, my Grandpa will cook for dinner and he will prepare a special menu that consists of all types of food. This is done weeks before the New Year.
Naina: How does your family celebrate Chinese New Year?
Sharon: We don’t typically celebrate Chinese New Year in a grand manner, not similar to how Mary’s family celebrates it but every year we would eat the same type of food and all kinds of meat. Especially fish.
Mary: Yeah, fish is very important, particularly during the New Year season. Because they have a special and cultural meaning to it, the fish means ‘great fortune’.
Sharen: So the fish in our language is called ‘Yu’ (pronounced as eh-y-u) and what’s funny is that this word also means ‘food leftovers’ which is a good thing.
Mary: If there are left overs of your food that means that your family has more than enough of food and that shows that you are financially stable it is ‘good fortune’. It symbolizes our freedom from poverty.
Naina: Why do you celebrate two new years?
Sharen: Well, it is because we follow the lunar calendar.
Mary: But we still celebrate the normal New Years but Chinese New Year symbolizes the ‘spring festival’. Basically, the normal New Years that occurs on January 1st is the modern one that we follow. But the Chinese New Year is more traditional for our culture.
Sharen: It simply means new start for the Chinese. We have many other festivals according the lunar calendar such as the dragon boat festival and the mid-autumn festival.
Naina: So what did you do for Chinese New Year here? How did you celebrate?
Sharen: We attended a gala at the Breslin Student Events center that was put up by the ‘Chinese undergraduate student association’. It was a spring festival gala and it was kind of formal. They had toasters and many singers, dancers, stand up comedy acted by 2 people, like ‘improv’. This is a traditional form of entertainment in China. It is known as ‘Xiang sheng’ that means cross talk.
Mary: Well I attended an event held by the CSSA – which is abbreviated as the Chinese Student association. They held games and it was a huge event. It is called “Miao Hui” in our language – play various games, food, and enjoy. It is like a cultural event. Miao hui in Beijing usually. In Beijing there are lots of Miao Hui located in various places in China. They don’t have parades though. “Wu long” which means ‘dancing dragons’ are traditional shows performed during the New Year. So here, we go to the CSSA event held and it was indoors in Mcdonel Hall. I think it was pretty good, and full of the spring festival atmosphere. The lanterns and lots of red! The environment made me feel like I was back home. Because it was crowded it, felt like China again.
Naina: Did you have fun?
Sharen: (Laughs) Kind of, kind of.
Mary: Well, because every night of the eve new years we – as in my family – would sit in front of the TV and watch the premiere of the Chinese New Year gala which is a show that holds different kinds of performances, televised. And I didn’t do that so it feels strange.
Naina: How did you feel the difference in your activities during the day of the New Year here compared to back home?
Sharen: The fireworks were absent. It was those sounds that reminded me that it’s New Year, but there were no fireworks produced here.
Mary: That’s why it’s beneficial and very good that there are different Chinese associations here. There are so many events happening and it helps us, as a normal Chinese student residing here to enjoy the experience better.
Sharen: We had to go to class too. Whereas in China, it’s a holiday.
Mary: I also had to wake up at 6 am to catch the live spring festival gala in China on Youtube. For me the gala is a really big thing.
Sharen: And we would share our thoughts about the gala in the, you can say, the Chinese version twitter called ‘Weibo’. That literally means Microblog.