Typically, when you receive a red envelope on Feb. 14, you expect to see a Valentine’s Day card. This year, however, many people who got red envelopes on Feb. 14 did not receive cards, but rather a bit of cash.
These red envelopes are a bit different—they are called hóng bāo (Mandarin), lai see (Cantonese) or lì xì (Vietnamese) and are just one of the many traditions associated with Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in many cultures around the world, especially in Asia.
The date of Lunar New Year changes every year depending on the first new moon on the lunar calendar. This year, the beginning of Lunar New Year fell on Feb. 14 on the Gregorian calendar. Each year is also associated with one of 12 animals on the Chinese zodiac; 2010 is the Year of the Tiger.
Lunar New Year is celebrated extensively by many cultures and their respective populations around the world, including Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures, to name a few.
“It’s the most important holiday in Chinese culture, even more important than Christmas,” said Ginger Tsai, fourth-year BMED and president of the Taiwanese American Student Association (TASA).
Because of the importance of the holiday and the many traditions associated with it, Lunar New Year is traditionally a time spent with close friends and family. Because it is a time to spend with family many people travel home for the holiday.
“On New Year’s Day, my family eats a traditional dinner together either at a restaurant or at home and the adults give children red envelopes filled with good luck money. We then spend the rest of the celebration week visiting relatives and wishing them a happy new year,” said Jasmine Fu, a third-year IE and member of the Chinese Student Association (CSA).
The tradition of greeting family members and wishing them luck for the upcoming year is one that is revered and maintained, even with family members halfway around the world.
“I celebrate Lunar New Year by joining with my family to have a dinner then make calls to the families in Korea to wish them Happy New Year,” said Sunny Lee, fourth year management major and a member of the Korean American Student Association (KASA).
Like many major celebrations, a big highlight of Lunar New Year is the food. Different types of food served have special symbolic meanings; for instance, bamboo shoots, egg rolls and oranges symbolize wealth, and a whole fish symbolizes prosperity.
“We have a big traditional dinner with our family, or if our family isn’t here, with our second family—our friends. The dinner consists of ten dishes and must include one whole steamed fish, never eaten fully to ensure continual fortune throughout the year, along with nian gao or year cake, which symbolizes higher/greater success,” Tsai said.
“Vietnamese New Year, or tet, is actually a three day event…of course, food is everywhere, from condiments such as all kinds of mut (pressed fruits), banh tet and banh chung (rice cakes),” said Anh Tran, third year IE and president of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA).
There are countless other traditions associated with the new year season as well, some of them dating back centuries.
“Before Chinese New Year people clean. A lot. They believe in cleaning the house to sweep away bad luck to make way for incoming good luck,” said Doug Wang, fourth year EE and president of CSA.
“The first guest at your door the day after new year is the most important because they are the indicator of your fortune in the next year, so generally you would want a prosperous, healthy individual to show up on your doorstep…overall, the new year is perceived to set the tone for the whole year so it is only a time of happiness. It is a drama-free three days,” Tran said.
“When I was a kid, we lit firecrackers during the festival. I liked the vivid atmosphere, and the noise is what makes the festival,” said Zhengqin Fan, president of the Chinese Friendship Association (CFA).
Students also have expressed a deeper appreciation for childhood traditions since growing older and coming to college.
“I’m sure things are the same as they were when I was a child, but my perspective of the holiday has probably changed. When you’re a kid, holidays are about playing games and having fun. You’re always with your family, so spending time with them is taken for granted. After going away to college and not seeing them so much, you realize just how important they really are,” Wang said.
“I really appreciate having a family dinner now that I’ve grown older since I hardly ever go home these days. Although the big dinner seems a lot smaller, the rarity of the occasion is more than enough to compensate,” Tsai said.
The rich heritage and traditions associated with Lunar New Year continue to be carried out by student groups at Tech.
VSA, TASA, CFA and CSA all hosted events to celebrate the lunar new year season.