Chinese New Year parallels American tradition

Diversity pervades our lives, and with globalization coming into full swing, differing customs and celebrations are beginning to meet in cities all over the world.

Menglong Cai, a sophomore accounting major, says that Chinese New Year is a celebration that focuses on good fortune for the year to come.

Although Christmas and New Year’s seem long in the past, international students at Gannon University like sophomore finance major Menglong Cai have just wrapped up the holiday season with the passing of the Chinese New Year.

Thursday marked the beginning of the new year in China. Cai is native to Xiamen, China, located in the southern part of the country. Cai expressed excitement and anticipation over the immaculate feast and celebration that occurs on the eve of Chinese New Year.

The traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner consists of many seafood dishes and dumplings, all symbolic of different good wishes for the new year.

Cai said that just like in America, Chinese New Year is valuable family time.

“The Chinese New Year is like Christmas,” he said. “It is a time to be with family.”

After the feast, many Chinese families spend time playing games and watching a TV broadcast dedicated to the New Year celebration. Many famous performers have been featured on the broadcast, including Jackie Chan, who made an appearance in 2009.

Much like the celebration of the new year in the United States, Chinese New Year focuses on good fortune for the year to come. As a custom, married couples give red packages with money enclosed in them to children and unmarried adults for good luck, and many wear the color red to ward off ill fortune in the coming year.

Unlike the American New Year, the Chinese New Year is celebrated continually for 15 days after New Year’s Day, when the first full moon of the year occurs. In preparation for such an extensive celebration, all houses are cleaned to sweep away bad spirits and decorated to reflect the commemoration of the new year.

During this time, many avoid wearing anything white or black, for these colors symbolize mourning in the Chinese culture. Many look to this time as a time of reconciliation and new beginnings, celebrating with friends and enemies.

Two days after New Year’s Day, each husband takes his family to the home of his wife’s parents and the New Year is celebrated all over again. Finally, on the night of the full moon, the “Festival of Lanterns” occurs with fireworks, lanterns and dancing.

The phrase “Guo Nian,” which means “Celebrate the New Year” in Chinese, stems from Chinese folklore in which a large beast was driven away from the people of China by an immortal god, taking with it the threat of many other hazardous beasts.

Much like the story of the rescuer Jesus Christ born to save all from sin, the Chinese New Year celebrates new life without the troubles of yesterday.        

2011 marks the “Year of the Rabbit” for the Chinese zodiac – the year of luck, affability and duty.

The international students at Gannon provide us all with avenues to explore other cultures without leaving Erie.

Through the understanding of another culture, students have the opportunity to strengthen their own ideas and capacities in several areas, including critical thinking. Enriching communication skills and breaking stereotypes of different groups are also benefits of understanding other cultures.

Judy van Rheenen, director of Gannon University’s International Student Office, said that American students should be aware of other cultures present on the Gannon campus.

“Hopefully students are learning the importance of embracing other cultures,” she said. “In the future, chances are they’ll be working with someone who has a different cultural background.”

Van Rheenen said the Chinese population of students at Gannon is steadily growing, as it has doubled since last semester. Currently, 40 Chinese students attend the university.

This year, to celebrate Chinese New Year on campus, van Rheenen wanted to do something that would bring the celebration outside of the International Student Office by contacting Metz & Associates.

On Thursday, the Beyer Hall cafeteria featured Chinese dishes including General Tso’s chicken, Chinese noodles and fried rice.

“I thought it would be great for our Chinese and American students to celebrate together in a common area like the cafeteria,” she said. “The Chinese students were happy with the participation.”

Van Rheenen also said that even though many of the Chinese students are enrolled in English as a Second Language courses, both she and they are eager to integrate Chinese and American culture.

May we all take the wisdom this year has to offer in opening our eyes to diversity and learning about the customs and celebrations that identify the people of the world.


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Features editor Janae Butler contributed to this story.