Students celebrate Lunar New Year 2021 amid COVID-19
Two members of the Brandeis Asian American Students Association reflected on how COVID-19 has changed their celebrations of the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is a two-week celebration of the first new moon of the year in the traditional lunar calendar of many East Asian countries. Members of the Asian American community at Brandeis usually hold celebrations for the holiday, but due to COVID-19 they have had to alter their typical events.
Different Asian countries have varying names and traditions for the holiday, but the Lunar New Year is always meant to be spent with loved ones. Spending quality time with one's family is the most important part of the Lunar New Year — eating dinner together, lighting firecrackers and fireworks and giving out red envelopes with money inside to symbolize good luck. In China, the first seven days are a public holiday, and an additional week of celebrating leads up to the final Lantern Festival, according to a History.com article. This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made it necessary to adjust traditional celebrations. For families in East Asian countries and around the world, large gatherings could not happen as usual.
In an interview with the Justice, two Brandeis Asian American Students Association e-board members, Kelly Zheng ’22 and Tina Li ’23, explained that before the pandemic, Brandeis Asian communities always tried to hold traditional events for those celebrating on campus. Zheng reflected on the current situation and said, “The whole point of the holiday is to stay close to friends and family but this year everyone had to stay apart.” In an attempt to maintain some traditional celebrations, Zheng and her friends gathered for a small meal and ate oranges, which represent luck and wealth in Chinese culture.
In previous years at Brandeis, Brandeis Chinese Cultural Connection has put together celebrations for students who remained on campus and could not celebrate with family. In 2019 and 2020, BC3 held a Lunar New Year Gala with Chinese foods and student performances. In February 2020, BC3 also hosted a Lantern Riddles festival at the Shapiro Campus Center and a Lunar New Year feast featuring traditional foods at Sherman Dining Hall, according to their Instagram posts.
This year, as stated in the Brandeis Intercultural Center events calendar, Club Cantonese distributed crafting materials to make red envelopes and held a virtual arts and crafts night to teach students how to make the envelopes. The Taiwanese Students Association also hosted a virtual arts and crafts night to make good luck lantern ornaments.
Although all holiday celebrations in the past year have changed significantly, different cultural clubs at Brandeis managed to still celebrate the Lunar New Year in smaller groups and gathered virtually in an attempt to keep customs and traditions alive.