This past week was certainly an extraordinary one in Seegers Union. With decorations full of vibrant red papers, paper lanterns and balloons, Muhlenberg College was ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

This holiday is celebrated on the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar and goes on until the lantern festival (which is on the fifteenth day). However, this celebration is not limited to Chinese cultures. Countries like Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam celebrate this holiday with some slight traditional differences.

Bailey Roberts ‘19 and Ha Anh Truong ‘19 light sparklers outside of Seegers Union to ring in the new year. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg College

The origin of the Chinese New Year is derived from a legendary monster called Nian. According to the Chinese folk story, Nian stayed in a forest away from a village.  However, whenever the new moon devoured the daylight, the monster would appear in front of the villagers and scare them. For many years, people dreaded the time of the new moon as it got closer and closer. But one day, a wise old man advised the villagers to make loud noises, bring out fires and wear the color red because that was what Nian was afraid of. So, when Nian came the next new moon, people hit their drums, ignited all the fireworks and wore red from head to toe. The spectacle drove Nian away from the village—never to return. From this day forward, villagers celebrated the new moon. This celebration soon turned into the fifteen days of the Chinese New Year.

Although the festival here did not last for fifteen days, Muhlenberg had their own version of this celebration. First, the main hall and the windows of Seegers Union were filled with decorations like Chinese letters, imitated balloon fireworks, paper lanterns and big balloon letters spelling out Lunar New Year. The hall had an almost warm atmosphere, giving students a welcoming environment to experience the Chinese culture.

On Tuesday, students were given an opportunity to participate in dumpling making. At the kitchen, many Chinese international students took part, but there were some non-Chinese students making the dumplings as well. Yes, there were some struggles because some students never made dumplings before, but with some help, we were able to produce around 3,500 to 3,700 dumplings in one hour. That far exceeded the quota that any of the previous years set.

Making dumplings were especially memorable to me. This event made me remember the times I made dumplings with my family. Almost every Lunar New Year (or even western New Year), my grandmother would always make the stuffing in a large bowl. After she finished, my whole family would sit in the circle and make dumplings (even experiment with different shapes). This year, I was unable to go back and celebrate with my family members, but, by doing this activity, I was able to celebrate Lunar New Year with my friends and make new memories.

Thursday’s dinner courses were astounding. The food was not limited to just steamed dumplings. There were fried dumplings, egg drop soup, sweet and sour tofu, spring rolls and even desserts such as green tea frozen yogurt and mandarin oranges. The dining hall was packed with long lines of students. With Chinese music in the background, students waited for dumplings for at least ten minutes. The result of the wait was absolutely marvelous. The steamed dumplings had two variations: vegetable and chicken-shrimp stuffed dumplings, and both were just too delicious (although I prefer the chicken-shrimp stuffed dumplings). I was blown away by the dedication of the school in giving thoughtful food considerations to celebrate Chinese New Year. Also, thanks to the Asian Students Association volunteers (ASA), the whole events went with success.

I am not the only one who enjoyed such spectacles. Molly Nochimson ‘21 also appreciated the festivities surrounding the Lunar New Year.

Yu Fei Li ‘20 serves traditional Chinese gunpowder green tea to guests at the Tea Around the Globe event on Friday. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg College

“I really enjoyed the Lunar New Year events! During last week’s Chinese class, we had the chance to go into one of our kitchens and make all different kinds of dumplings,” Nochimson said. “… I wish my friends and family a happy and healthy Lunar New Year.”

Jason Shang ‘21, an international student from China, also had memorable moments during the celebration.

“I volunteered to make dumplings on Tuesday, and it was a really good experience,” said Shang. “The dumplings were so good, and I saw lots of students go for them as well. There was also dragon dance in the dining hall … It was really good for a freshman Chinese student. I feel like I’m at home. Maybe next time the campus can allow students to make flour on our own for the dumplings.”

It is truly exciting to see that international students can truly feel that they belong in the school and are allowed to share their culture even far away from home.

Perhaps coincidentally, on Friday, Seegers Union held an international tea tasting event, where students and faculty were able to sip teas and munch on snacks associated with the teas. This wrapped up the Lunar New Year, where at the end of the day, students were able to drink not just Chinese teas, but other teas from around the globe.

Overall, the college’s attempt to integrate Chinese tradition into the school atmosphere was successful, in which students of a diverse range of backgrounds can appreciate and understand Chinese culture. In the future, I hope to see where there will be activities dedicated to not just Chinese, but Christian, Jewish, and other backgrounds as well. I wish to see where there will be more engagement in other less known countries.


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