Harper’s International students usher in the Lunar New Year


With red envelopes in hand, two students pose for a photo during a student-run Lunar New Year celebration in Harper’s Building D. (Photo by Lydia Schultz)

Harper rang in Lunar New Year 2023 in Building D on Thursday, Feb. 2, co-sponsored by International Students Club and the Asian Student Organization. 

The normally quiet rotunda was bursting with the flavors of Asian culture — from the vibrancy of decorations, the smell of Asian cuisine and the lively spirit of karaoke singers. Students gathered around several booths including a Lunar New Year trivia table, a zodiac horoscope table and an origami craft table. Later on, a band of students came in to fill the atmosphere with live Mongolian music.

Despite Harper’s decreased enrollment rates from 2018-2022, the percentage of Asian students has increased at Harper. For many, Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year. 

“It means a lot to me actually,” Sherry Xiao stated as she sat behind the Chinese calligraphy booth to transcribe messages for students. 

For her, it’s the only time to see family members that live far away. Xiao celebrates the new year with a family gathering where they eat good food, play mahjong and watch the annual Spring Festival Gala program on television.

Other important Chinese traditions for Lunar New Year include giving and receiving small red envelopes of money (typically from elders to younger family members), watching dragon and lantern parades and eating foods believed to bring “prosperity” such as dumplings and tangerines. 

Lunar New Year was officially on Jan. 22 this year, but the exact date changes in timing with the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar, which always falls sometime between Jan. 21 to Feb. 20. 

The largest celebration of the Lunar New Year is in China (where it is also known as the Spring Festival), but there are many other countries that celebrate Lunar New Year with a different name for the holiday and their own traditions. 

For example, South Korea celebrates Seollal by preparing a feast for family ancestors, then eating food that can include Korean rice cake soup (tteokguk), kimchi dumplings and a sweet sticky rice dessert called yaksik. 

Furthermore, in Vietnam the new year celebration is called Tet. It is customary to bring a blossoming tree into one’s house to attract good fortune, and eat foods such as steamed square cakes (banh chung), sticky rice and boiled chicken. 

Every new year is connected to one of these twelve zodiac signs that originated from Chinese mythology: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

2023 is the Year of the Rabbit (except in Vietnam where it is the Year of the Cat) — which signifies a year of good luck. 

Both the President of International Students Club, Harshii Thota, as well as their treasurer, Hoang Nguyen, confessed that they did not know anything about Lunar New Year before organizing this event. 

“This event motivates me to look into my culture and learn more about the origin of my people,” Hoang expressed. 

Kei Smith, President of the Asian Student Organization, promised that there will be more to come and said she is working with other clubs to host an International Fair in May that will include an Asian culture showcase.