Lunar New Year

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The Chinese Qilin Club invites the Pacific community to celebrate Lunar New Year with food, performances, and cultural lessons

  During the Shang Dynasty, the people of ancient China were plagued by a ferocious and menacing monster known as the “Nian.” This creature lived in the deepest depths of the ocean, but once a year, on the very darkest, coldest, longest night, the Nian would crawl out and terrorize the nearest village, eating every living thing in its sight, including people. It preyed from the sunset to the sunrise, leaving entire villages cleared and villagers in hopeless disarray.

   For centuries, the only way people knew to survive these annual attacks was to hide indoors, leaving no clues of their existence visible. But over the years, people learned that the Nian was a very cowardly, easily scared being—and soon realized they could use the Nian’s greatest fears—the color red, loud banging noises, bright flashes of light or fire, and traditional lion dancing—to scare him back into the sea; and, each year on the longest night of winter, would hang bright red lanterns, wear their brightest red robes, stay up late into the night setting off firecrackers, and perform the traditional lion dance to scare the Nian. The only way for future generations to survive the annual attacks was through keeping the tradition alive, and passing the story onto their children, who would continue to pass the story on to this day.

   Professor Carol Gwo, Pacific University Chinese language professor and advisor to the Chinese Qilin Club, passed this story on to me with the wholehearted enthusiasm and urgency of someone who had seen the Nian attack first hand. Only when the story was over did she begin to laugh, revealing to me that the whole tale is a work of fiction. She explained written word and record keeping was not present in China at the time of this story’s conception, so many believe a tired parent or a wise grandparent created the story to distract restless children from the bleak monotony of short winter days. She elaborated that the true story of Lunar New Years, originally known as the Spring Festival, began as an agricultural measurement of the moon.

   Long before calendars could cite January First as the start of each year, farmers living in the Shang Dynasty noticed how the moon’s size seemed to directly correlate with the weather conditions. They saw how every three turns of the moon, the weather began to turn too. This pattern continued and they noticed how 12 turns marked the end of the darkest, coldest time of the year, and how as soon as the next turn started, the cherry blossoms began blooming and the world came to life again. This natural rebirth indicated fresh beginnings and hope, making it ample cause for celebration—and a perfect reason to celebrate a Lunar New Year. “Every year people ask me what day Chinese New Year is,” Professor Gwo smiles, “and I have to look it up because it changes each year. It goes by nature, by the natural world, not by a calendar date.”

   This Lunar New Year falls on Saturday, February 10—and the Chinese Qilin Club is inviting students and faculty to join them in celebrating on Friday, February 16. The club hosts the celebration annually, as a way to share hope and excitement for the new year with the Pacific community. Students can expect dinner and a show, along with opportunities to learn about various traditions and cultural customs. 

   Club President and Pacific junior Jaymee Morrone explains the first hour will function as an “around the world” celebration, with different cultural clubs—including NHOH, Korean Club, French Club, BSU—working stands to showcase different aspects of their respective club and culture. After this, students will head down to the NPR to get food from different caterers, and view live performances including Takahachi, Chinese fan dancing, and of course the classic Lunar New Year Lion Dance. Morrone hopes everyone can join in and be a part of the celebration: “We just hope people can have a fun experience with people close to them… they can try a new food they’ve never had before, or check out our performances and support the performers. Overall, they can just have fun and learn more about a different culture.” Both Professor Gwo and Morrone emphasized everyone can enjoy the festivity, regardless of how much or how little experience they have with Lunar New Year.

   This year’s festivities are specifically celebrating the coming “Year Of The Dragon,” one of twelve Chinese zodiac signs; dragons are typically confident, intelligent, and enthusiastic, with a natural inclination to meet challenges and take bold risks. Professor Gwo describes the significance of Chinese zodiac signs, stating, “personality has a lot to do with it. Growing up in Chinese culture, and then living in the U.S. for 43 years now, I have seen the East and the West. I have learned that those kinds of stories really do carry truth and meaning behind them.” She explains how as a snake herself, she is very resourceful, family-oriented, and understated: “Snakes are very easy to get along with, and they never attack unless someone tries to harm them.”

   As for what kind of fortune dragons can expect of the coming year, Professor Gwo is more skeptical. “I don’t believe in that,” she explains. “Fortune tellers can make up a story so easily. My consolidated advice is: new year, new start, new beginnings, new hope, new opportunities. Always look at the bright side!” She believes the meaning of Lunar New Year isn’t promising certain blessings to one specific sign, but rather celebrating everyone’s chance to adopt a more optimistic state of mind. She encourages students, regardless of zodiac, to look forward to the hope and fresh start this new year brings.

   While the Lunar New Year celebration is the Qilin club’s most popular event each year, it is far from the first cultural event they have hosted this year, according to Morrone. Beyond hosting this event, the Chinese Qilin club aims to celebrate and share Chinese culture through group meetings and club events ranging from dumpling making to Chinese brush painting. Morrone elaborates, “we usually host fun and educational events that are open to anyone. We tend to promote them on social media or through emails.” She went on to invite anyone interested in joining the Qilin Club, or volunteering at the Lunar New Year event, to reach out to her via email:


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