Family, puns and symbolism a large influence on Chinese New Year celebrations

May Wu hangs a Chinese lantern in the University of Oregon multicultural center in celebration of the lunar new year this Sunday. Wu, a sophomore from Portland, serves as an intern for the Asian Pacific Student Union (ASPU) (Tess Freeman/Emerald).

May Wu hangs a Chinese lantern in the University of Oregon multicultural center in celebration of the lunar new year this Sunday. Wu, a sophomore from Portland, serves as an intern for the Asian Pacific Student Union (ASPU) (Tess Freeman/Emerald).

Posted by Dana Macalanda on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 5:59 pm.

Food, family, fireworks, an abundance of red and gold, more food: all things that mark that the Year of the Snake is almost here. This year, Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival) takes place on Feb. 10, and although the U.S. only recognizes a single day, the celebration lasts much longer for those in China and other Asian countries.

“Traditionally it’s about 10 days or 15 days leading to the Chinese New Year and then 10 days after that,” said Jean Wu, senior instructor of Chinese.

Wu compared the holiday to Thanksgiving and Christmas where families take time to prepare in advance, such as buying a turkey or a tree. To continue the analogy, Wu equated Chinese New Year is what Christmas is to the West – the largest and most important holiday of the year, especially for families.

“A lot of my friends are going home. I know one family that’s getting their hair cut, because their tradition is that you have to get your hair cut before the New Year,” said Elizabeth Luh, a junior majoring in economics who is also the director of the Asian Pacific American Student Union.

Luh says that the idea behind getting a haircut is that it’s a new look, a fresh start for the New Year. The same goes for the practice of cleaning your house.

“You clean your house to get rid of last year’s troubles, last year’s bad things and you start anew,” Luh said.

Kun Li, an international student from Zhumadian laughed, said he decided to clean his room for holiday, but it was so messy it took him two days.

Despite the huge emphasis on family, some international students like Fengyi Zhang whose hometown is Dalian, aren’t as bothered by the separation thanks to technology. However, although Zhang talks to his parents regularly, one thing he will miss is playing mahjong with his relatives during the holiday.

Jinyuan Liu, an international student from Weifang who is spending his first year abroad says that he’ll miss a tradition practiced by some families where they visit the graves of deceased loved ones and ask for protection, luck and success in the new year.

To celebrate, Zhang is thinking about hosting a dinner for the holiday. For Zhang, Liu and Li, sticky sweet rice dumplings (tangyuan) are the most important – puns and symbolism are huge factors when it comes to deciding what to eat for New Year’s.

“The names of the food sound similar to lucky words in the culture. So that’s why when they are having this it sounds like a blessing,” Wu said.

According to Wu, “yuan” in tangyuan sounds similar to the word for “reunion,” reinforcing the importance of family during the holiday. Another example of a food that Wu believes is crucial is fish.

“The pronunciation for ‘fish’ in Chinese sounds exactly the same as surplus,” Wu said.

She elaborated with a saying – “Nian Nian You Yu,”  that literally translates to “every year you have surplus.” Or in this case, fish.

“I mean it’s like if you have the fish, your job is half done. If you don’t have the fish, then it’s like Thanksgiving without turkey,” Wu said.