On Feb.1, the Year of the Tiger came roaring in to begin the Lunar New Year. Although the pandemic separated many students from family and limited large gatherings, some celebrating Cornellians were able to enjoy the holiday and managed to participate in their own festivities.
In the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, the tiger symbolizes courage and strength, hinting at a positive sign for 2022. Many East Asians countries and Vietnam celebrate the holiday, which follows the lunisolar calendar. The holiday, which can last as long as fifteen days, is a time to gather with family, eat home-cooked meals and prepare for the coming year.
Reflecting on how her family typically celebrates the New Year holiday in southern China, Joan Rong ’25 said that people usually get time off from work and school. Families hold dinners, offer food to ancestors and catch up with distant relatives.
This year, Rong had a more casual celebration with her friends at Cornell.
“It was basically a lot of friends gathered together to eat a dinner and watch the New Year’s Eve Gala [Chunwan]” Rong said. ‘Chunwan’, China’s New Year Eve gala, is an exceptionally popular TV program which once had one billion viewers in 2018.
Some students stated that the threat of COVID-19 strongly affected their ability to celebrate the holiday. Sean Huang ’24 said he didn’t do much for the Lunar New Year, staying in his dorm room and calling his family instead of going out and celebrating.
“I was missing out on that big reunion part of the New Year,” Huang said. “Without COVID, I could have met up with friends or something.”
Huang, who is the current tech chair for the Cornell Taiwanese American Society, said that in a normal year the CTAS would have featured a dinner, as a big family dinner is the main New Year’s tradition for Taiwanese people.
In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is ushered in during Tết, one of the most important celebrations in Vietnamese culture that can last as long as seven days. According to Hilary Nguyen ’22, event coordinator for the Cornell Vietnamese Association, the CVA decided not to hold any Tết celebrations due to worries about the Omicron variant’s high transmissibility.
Nguyen said she was still able to celebrate with some Chinese friends by cooking foods with different New-Year-related meanings — fish for prosperity, dumplings for wealth and noodles for longevity — creating a melange of different cultural celebrations.
“It’s about getting together with the family, celebrating the New Year and eating good food. That’s what I did: spend time with my friends,” Nguyen said.
With the campus’ return to COVID-19 alert level green, student organizations are once again able to hold in-person events.
Cornell’s Chinese Students Association is planning a Lunar New Year’s celebration for Feb. 19. According to Ava Tan ’23, president of the CSA, the festivities had to be moved from the original date of Feb. 4, due to the University’s restrictions on events early in the semester.
Tan described the event as a smaller version of the Mid-Autumn Festival with games and snacks available. This marks a return to past practices for the CSA, which did not hold any in-person events for Lunar New Year in 2021.
“We just want people to come out and have a good time for our first big event of the semester,” Tan said.
This year’s upcoming celebration will include a photo booth, hongbao (red envelopes that typically hold money) containing candy and a tree where people can hang New Year’s resolutions or wishes. CSA social chairs Jasmine Um ’23 and Christina Zeng ’24 said that the festival has adapted to the pandemic. Due to the University’s guidance for event room capacity and hot food service, the attractions will be spread out to prevent crowding and only pre-packaged snacks will be offered.
Despite the restrictions, Um and Zeng said they are optimistic that the event could have a positive impact on the Cornell community.
“We’re trying to give people a nice community activity to do during Lunar New Year,” Um said. “People who can’t travel back home can celebrate [the New Year] on campus.”