Chinese students celebrate Lunar New Year

The University of Alabama hosted a New Year festival for the Tuscaloosa community to enjoy.

By Emma Cary
News Reporter

The Lyu family’s New Year feast

TUSCALOOSA — Yuanwei Lyu can picture the red and gold lanterns that line the street of her hometown. She can smell the smoke from the fireworks. The colorful explosion in the night sky will gather a crowd of her neighbors, friends and family. Her aunts and uncles will shower her siblings with the red envelope—a gift of money. Her entire family will have just finished a feast of dumplings and all of their other favorite foods that cover multiple tables.

The repeating 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac animals bring an excitement to the celebration. In 2019, it is the year of the pig.

Cartoon pigs can be seen through the windows of every store. Her family members will sit around the TV watching the New Year Gala. Ancient Chinese traditions will be performed for the whole nation to see. Poems, dances and traditional Chinese garments will fill every minute of the performance. It is a celebration of a new year and of the culture that Lyu, a doctoral student at the University of Alabama, dearly loves.

She can imagine her family counting down the seconds until they enter the new year.

The festival stops the hustle of China in its tracks. Over a billion people will put life on pause to celebrate what the Lunar New Year will bring. New Year’s Day is Feb. 5, but schools are closed and work is canceled for almost two weeks. Lyu equates the family dinner to the magnitude of American Thanksgiving and the nationwide celebration to the excitement of Christmas. Nearly 8,000 miles away from the Shaanxi province, she cherishes memories from home.

Lyu and other students from China who are studying at the University of Alabama celebrate the new year as best they can from so far away.

“It’s a hard day for [Chinese students],” Lyu said. “I miss my family. If I want to talk to them and give them best wishes, I have to wake up very early.”

Lyu has been in the United States for three years. Although the pain of not being with family has slightly subsided, her Chinese friends still make a point to gather together and celebrate their home country.

“Last week, my friends and I ate hot pot three times,” Lyu said with a smile. “We couldn’t decide what Chinese dish to make, but everyone loves hot pot.”

UA enrolls nearly 400 students from China. To make home seem a little closer for students like Lyu, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association hosted a New Year festival in the Ferguson Ballroom on Feb. 5. Lyu and her friends attended the event.

The event featured its own Gala like the one that plays on TV in China. Ladies in qípáo, a traditional Chinese dress, displayed their gowns. Children adorned in red, a traditional color believed to scare evil spirits away, performed dances. Mr. Chen’s, an authentic Chinese restaurant in Tuscaloosa, catered the event. Lanterns lined the walls.

Shirley Wu was one of the hosts for the New Year’s event. She received her Master’s in computer science and now works as an IT tech for UA’s College of Arts and Sciences. Her job was to introduce the events to the attendees. She first introduced the programs in Chinese, and then she translated the event to English so all the attendees could understand. These programs featured a fashion show, children’s dance routine, poems and singing. Wu said the event gathered more people than they originally expected—around 600 people joined in the celebration.

The event gathered crowds of all different nations. Not only did Chinese families gather together in celebration of their homeland, students and Tuscaloosa residents from Asia, South America, North America and Europe came together to share in the festivities.

Rona Khadka attended the Chinese New Year event. Although she lives in Tuscaloosa, she is originally from Nepal. She was immediately excited about the Chinese New Year event because she loves Chinese food, and the Chinese culture welcomed and excited her.

“I loved the Chinese traditional wear,” Khadka said as she remembered her hometown traditional wear. “The red lanterns everywhere were so beautiful as well.”

Khadka participates in other countries’ festivals as consistently as she attends her own South Asian festivals. She makes a point to always attend the celebrations of other cultures because she loves when people of other cultures experience the festivals Nepal enjoys.

“I like going to different culture’s events because I get to learn something new and fun about their culture,” Khadka said.

She explained that it’s easy to miss home during the time of the festivals, since 8,000 miles creates quite a distance.. The festivals, however, remind her of home.

Some of the Chinese students said the crowd of different ethnicities makes them excited that others would share in their culture.

“I feel proud knowing foreigners would be willing to come to the festival,” Lyu said. “They want to know more about Chinese culture and make Chinese friends. I always want to share my culture.”