Lunar New Year is Friday, February 12, and that means 15 days of celebrating the Year of the Ox.
Stony Brook University is ringing in the new with a number of events and activities — virtual this year — which began February 10 with a special Lunar New Year menu at East Side and West Side Dining.
Agnes He, professor of Applied Linguistics and the founder and director of the Center for Multilingual and Intercultural Communication, said that the festivities really get started on New Year’s Eve, February 11, with a feast normally shared among family and friends. While large gatherings aren’t recommended during the pandemic, it is still the biggest day of the year.
“This is the single most important event, culturally and in every way possible, for Chinese society and those communities influenced by Chinese culture,” He said.
Many east and southeast Asian cultures — including those in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines — follow the lunisolar calendar, which are regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun. Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the calendar year, and the Ox, from the Chinese zodiac, represents the following personality traits: diligent, gentle, hardworking, reliable, patient, materialistic, and stubborn.
Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival in China. “It is a time to say goodbye to the harsh winter, and to get ready for spring,” He said.
Among the many traditions associated with the Lunar New Year, food plays a significant role.
“Eating food is a very culturally symbolic act,” said He. “It is not just something expensive or good that you want to eat. Every item that you want to put on the table should carry some meaning.”
The foods enjoyed at the new year’s table will vary depending on the country or region you’re from. Northern Chinese, He noted, will enjoy dumplings because they are “bundles of goodness, bundles of fortune,” while other countries in Southeast Asia will have rice cakes, not because of the rice, but because the word for cake is a homophone with the word for ‘tall’ or ‘high.’
“So it is the linguistic indexing of achieving the greatest height that you can possibly achieve by eating that food,” He said.”That sound gives you an acoustic resemblance of that semantic meaning.”
Another Lunar New Year tradition is the giving of red envelopes filled with money. “It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, but it’s just a token amount that you give, especially to the younger generation,” He said.
Couplets are a tradition unique to each family, examples of decorative calligraphy that are displayed in the home — two vertical, red strips of paper, each with a line of characters or words.
“They rhyme and they are symmetrical in meaning, and they complement each other in every way, in terms of meaning, in terms of sound, and in terms of metaphor,” He said. “So this is the power of words to bring good fortune, the power of writing to get rid of the bad spirits.”
The Lunar New Year typically ends with the Lantern Festival, which will be on Friday, February 26.
The Wang Center’s signature New Year Festival includes a video workshop hosted by Thien Nguyen August on making daruma, a traditional Japanese wishing doll that helps keep people positive and motivated.
Celebrate the Lunar New Year on Instagram with SBU. The Office of Global Affairs also invites everyone to post a picture or video of your Lunar New Year celebration for a chance to win a prize. Tag OGA Instagram @sbuglobalaffairs and use #sbuglobal, #SBULunarNewYear21.