The Year of the Ox
by Brooke Wolfenbarger | published Feb. 5th, 2021
From Feb. 12, 2021 to Feb. 26, 2021 is one of the biggest celebrations in the world — Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar and this date changes every year as well as the zodiac that is celebrated, making 2021 the Year of the Ox.
Each animal has its own characteristics throughout the year such as lucky and unlucky numbers, colors, days, directions, etc.
As one of the biggest celebrations in the world, there are many traditions, myths and history involved.
Chinese New Year is celebrated not only in China, but around the world. This means there are many ways to celebrate, with some ways being more traditional than others.
For second year Visual Media student Joanna Chung, she was able to experience Chinese New Year not only here in the U.S., but also in Hong Kong where she grew up.
Chung described Chinese New Year in Hong Kong as dinners with extended family — sort of like a Thanksgiving but the New Year's version.
Her family and others describe this gathering as tuan yuan, meaning reunion.
“That's basically what they call family gatherings, coming together around a table — and a big part of Chinese New Year is coming together and cooking and eating together,” Chung said.
" A big part of Chinese New Year is coming together ... "
As for when Chung moved to the United States, her experience with Chinese New Year only changed a little bit, but family was just as important.
“In America, it’s definitely a little toned down for me ... for Chinese New Year we mostly just have dinner with family and see our grandparents,” Chung said.
Lauren Avilla, a fourth year student doing an individualized study with a professional concentration in narratology, grew up in California and had different yet similar experiences with the holiday.
“There is a big Chinese community in Oakland [and] San Francisco. We didn't really go to any festivals, because we are a more tight-knit family," Avilla said. "We don't really have a very diverse repertoire of food, so a lot of traditional foods you would find in China during Chinese New Year we most likely don’t have.”
One widely-known Chinese New Year tradition Avilla's family does partake in, though, is the giving of red envelopes or red pockets.
“We typically get red pocket, in Cantonese it’s called lai see or in Mandarin it’s called hóng bāo ... it’s good wishes for the children and then my parents will also give it to other children,” Chung said.
Along with the many traditions, there are also many myths and stories that are told in relation to the Chinese New Year. One of the most commonly known is the story of the monster Nian.
The myth of Nian says that at the end of every year the monster would come up from the depths of the sea in search of people and that this would lead to the villagers going to the mountains to hide.
“Something they came up with to ward off this evil monster is to make a lot of loud noises so that’s why firecrackers are a big thing and people use a lot of drums,” Chung said.
This is also where the significance of the color red comes in.
Red decorations are used to decorate people’s homes and the festivals to ward off evil alongside the use of fireworks and firecrackers.
“Not only does it stand for good luck but it’s also supposed to scare off Nian,” Chung said.
The zodiacs are also very heavily involved when it comes to Chinese New Year.
Zodiacs can determine your fortune throughout the year and each year highlights a different sign. Most people would think when it is your zodiac year that you will be very lucky, but this is actually the opposite. It is seen as a challenge to overcome and taking precautions like wearing red can ward off the evil spirits.
With the impact of the pandemic, what does this have in store for one of the biggest celebrations in the world?
There might be smaller gatherings this year with the impact of COVID-19 still present. Chung agreed with this because of the importance of good health in many Chinese cultures.
“Even though it’s such a big holiday, Asian people are super concerned about their health. Having good health and living a long life is really important in Chinese culture," Chung explained. "One of the wishes we say to our grandparents is 'hope your health is good.'”
With Chinese New Year also falling during the academic semester, how can students partake in this celebration on campus? Many students will be far from home; others may be experiencing the holiday for the first time.
Avilla feels that even though there are some clubs on campus that put things together, there could still be some more recognition.
"I feel like [RIT] is tolerable, but I feel like it’s more of we acknowledge it and that’s it," Avilla explained.
She continued by saying it does not feel like her community is represented as much as she would like it to be.
RIT has put on events in the past showcasing different cultures. An example of this is during Diwali when Gracie's put up decorations and served Indian food. This was a big hit with the student body and it would be more popular if they did this to highlight other cultures.
There are so many interesting holidays celebrated in other cultures that many aren’t familiar with. It can be so exciting to participate in these celebrations even if you aren’t a part of that culture.
“Because it’s the lunar calendar, it’s not just China that celebrates it — it’s actually a lot of Asia,” Avilla explained.
"Because it's the lunar calendar, it's not just China that celebrates it — it's actually a lot of Asia"
So this year do some research, figure out what your zodiac animal is, put on some red for good luck and to ward off the evil spirits and find some new celebrations to partake in. Chinese New Year is one of the largest celebrations of the year, so we should all find a reason to celebrate!