This article begins with two statements of fact: Ivy Lu is our ASWWU head of diversity and wellness, and Chinese New Year is coming up on January 22nd. Now, many Walla Walla University students are probably familiar with the first fact, and a few probably knew the second as well. However, what most students likely do not know is that these are closely connected: Lu is a Chinese international student and Chinese New Year is “literally [her] favorite holiday.”
Traditionally, Chinese New Year is a time when students and family come home from wherever they are to spend time together as a family. The holiday fluctuates anywhere from mid-January to early February, depending on the lunar new year. “[It] doesn't matter how many years I've been away from home. I'll always go back to my hometown,” said Lu.
To start celebrating, the first thing Lu’s family does is buy New Year’s gifts. These can be expensive fruits, health products, or other luxury items depending on who they are for.
Next come the decorations. Her family puts up red New Year’s couplets, lanterns, and other symbols of good luck for the new year. “Helping my parents and my grandparents to do the decorations, I think that is very fun,” said Lu.
The celebration begins on New Year’s Eve. It starts with honoring the ancestors, a very traditional practice in China. “We'll put like a big table out. We'll have small dishes there, you know, have candles next to it.”
After that, her family spends the rest of the day preparing for the big meal. In past years they cooked it together, but recently, “we just kind of got lazy,” Lu explained. Now they usually go out to a restaurant in a nice hotel to celebrate instead.
One of Lu’s favorite memories from New Year’s Eve is the first time she got to stay up until midnight and watch the New Year’s Gala. “It was really exciting,” she said. Watching the Gala is like watching the ball drop in New York City. Then, once midnight hits, it is time to start lighting off firecrackers. “I don't like to light the fire because I'm scared,” said Lu, but she still enjoys watching.
Another one of Lu’s favorite Chinese New Year Traditions is receiving “lucky money” in a red envelope. This is when working family members give kids money as a token of good luck. When she was younger her parents used to hold onto it for “safekeeping,” but after middle school, she was finally allowed to keep it for herself.
These days things are a little different for Lu.
“I've been studying here for almost six years,” said Lu. The breaks in America don’t line up with Chinese New Year, so Lu’s family must send her red envelopes online. Although it’s not the same, her family does their best to help the holiday feel festive.
On Chinese New Year it is important to keep in mind that there are students on campus who are missing their families a lot. Do a little extra to make January 21-22 more festive. Lu’s best advice for people here at WWU looking to be more welcoming during Chinese New Year is to say, “Happy new year!” and be sensitively festive. Remember, a little goes a long way to help international students feel more at home.