Muhlenberg Celebrates Lunar New Year

In addition to opportunities to make and try delicious food and to participate in the week’s festivities, Muhlenberg College faculty, students and staff commemorated Lunar New Year by gathering in the Great Room of Seegers Union to learn about the history, traditions and rituals of the holiday.

By: Josh Lederman '20  Friday, February 7, 2020 02:21 PM

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Muhlenberg students take photos with a dragon dance performer during the College's Lunar New Year celebrations. Photo by Joe Romano '23.

Muhlenberg community members who celebrate Lunar New Year shared their experiences, and each told personal stories about how they commemorate the event.

For Assistant Professor of Anthropology Casey James Miller, the panel was an opportunity to reminisce about his first Lunar New Year celebration in 2000, when he was completing his last two years of high school as a student at the United World College of Hong Kong.

Part of the Lunar New Year celebrations in Hong Kong included a huge fireworks display in Victoria Harbor,” says Miller. “I remember being awed not only by the display, which was much larger than anything I had seen celebrating the Fourth of July back home but also by the sheer number of people present for the display—many times the population of my hometown back in Colorado”. 

Miller also had the opportunity to celebrate the Lunar New Year in China 11 years later while completing his graduate school fieldwork with queer activists and community members in northwest China and the celebration differed from his first. “One of my best friends invited me to celebrate the holiday with his family. It was my first time celebrating Lunar New Year this way, and I really enjoyed partaking in the traditions of my friend’s family, which included a big family reunion dinner, sparklers, prayers and offerings to departed family members, visits to the local temple and watching the big New Year’s celebration gala on CCTV.”

Miller stated that his favorite part of the celebration is reconnecting with his friends and research colleagues back in China, along with eating dumplings. “Every year I use Lunar New Year as an opportunity to reconnect with my friends and research participants back in China by sending WeChat messages. It’s a chance to check-in with old friends, exchange pictures and see what they have been up to.”

Tina Vu, an officer with the Office of Campus Safety, shared her memories growing up family who celebrated the holiday of Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

"My grandmother and mom would spend days preparing for Tết by buying fruits and incense, cleaning the house and preparing red envelopes to be handed to us children," says Vu. "Everyone had a role in helping to prepare the house. We had to get rid of things that would bring 'bad luck' in the New Year. I remember that bananas would bring back luck, so for the day before Tết and for three days after, we had to get rid of all of them!"

Vu continued, "On the day of Tết, we would all wear new clothes. Some of us would wear traditional clothes such as an áo dài, a traditional long dress. We would then greet our parents, wishing them long and prosperous lives, good health, happiness and good fortune, and in return, we would get blessings and the red envelopes with money in them. We'd go to our grandparents' and relatives' houses, spending the day eating, playing and celebrating."

“Events like the Lunar New Year festivities at Muhlenberg are just one of the ways our campus can create spaces for our community to share stories and experiences and how we all connect and learn from each other," says Thomas Janis, director of international student support.

"These global events highlight not just traditions but also the amazing individuals we have here who put their heart into making these events come together," says Janis. "Students interested in being part of these programs or who want to learn more can work with any of our departments and active organizations—the Office of Multicultural Life, the International Students Association, the Asian Students Association, Chinese Students Association, the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and more—on Muhlenberg's campus."