The Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in many Asian cultures, celebrated by over a billion people around the world. Saturday marked the beginning of 2020 in the lunar calendar.
Due to the numerous cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year, the traditions vary geographically. Wei Hong, a professor and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts originally from Shanghai, said dumplings are a popular food to make and eat in northern China. But Hong’s family makes rice bowls to celebrate.
“On New Year’s Eve, we would make a huge family dinner, lots of food, and the family is expected to come together to enjoy this annual dinner together,” Hong said. “This is something that we look forward (to) for the entire year.”
After dinner, Hong said, many people in southern China go outside to watch fireworks and lanterns. The next day, Hong would eat dishes her mom prepared, such as rice bowls, while spending time with family.
The festival ends on the 15th day of the new year, culminating in the Lantern Festival, where more rice bowls are traditionally eaten. The rice bowls are sweet and round, which “symbolizes the roundness of the family and the sweetness of life,” Hong said.
While dumplings may be absent from celebrations in southern China, they are a major part of the Korean Lunar New Year tradition, according to Tammy Conard-Salvo, associate director of Purdue’s Writing Lab and a Korean-American. She remembers eating a soup made with dumplings and rice cakes when celebrating the new year growing up.
“This is a big tradition in Korean culture and is thought to bring good luck, because to make the dumplings you use up kimchi you’ve made for the winter,” Conard-Salvo said.
In Korea, families gather to make a surplus of dumplings and soup, she said. Many families will exchange bowls of soup with their neighbors.
“I learned how to hand-make the dumplings from family members, and when I have the time, I still make my own dumplings from scratch. I can’t imagine celebrating Lunar New Year without dumpling and rice cake soup,” Conard-Salvo said.
One common tradition across cultures is the exchanging of red envelopes.
“This year, my friends and I plan to exchange red envelopes with our favorite candy in them to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, one would receive money with the envelopes for good luck into the new year,” said Stephanie Tom, a sophomore in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
Many students and faculty at Purdue celebrate the holiday, and some, like Conard-Salvo, appreciate that Purdue refers to the holiday as Lunar New Year rather than Chinese New Year, because it’s celebrated in numerous Asian cultures.
“When I first started working at Purdue, Lunar New Year celebrations were virtually nonexistent, and I’m especially glad the celebrations have evolved from a single event on a single day to multiple opportunities to learn about Asian culture and New Year’s traditions during an entire week,” Conard-Salvo said.
The increasing number of events celebrating the holiday on campus have given international students more opportunities to celebrate Lunar New Year away from home, while allowing domestic students a chance to experience different traditions and celebrations. Tom said she attended the Vietnamese Student Association’s Tet Lunar New Year Winter Formal last year.
The Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center is hosting Lunar New Year events every day this week, including a celebration in the Córdova Recreational Sports Center Feature Gym on Saturday. Ford Dining Court will have a selection of traditional foods on Tuesday, curated by the Chinese Engineering Student Council.