The vibrant and colorful celebration of Chinese New Year is one of the most festive and important holidays in Chinese culture. This year’s Chinese New Year holiday began on Jan. 28 and will run through Feb. 11.
Several countries honor the lunar-solar calendar-based new year, but Chinese New Year is the most internationally recognized celebration.
“This is probably due to the fact that there is a lot of the Chinese community abroad,” modern languages and literatures professor Teresiana Matarrese said.
Chinese New Year, sometimes called Spring Festival, is so ancient that historians are unable to trace its origin. The earliest known records of the celebration date back to China’s Shang Dynasty era in the 14th
The Chinese calendar was created in harmony with the lunar cycle and the solar solstices. The calendar’s framework also reflects the Chinese zodiac, in which each year represents an animal. The zodiacal animals include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This year is the year of the rooster.
“The legend dates back to the Jade Emperor in heaven. He wanted to have a race with different animals participating,” Chinese Student Association (CSA) member Kevin Chiu said. “The order of the 12-year cycle is based on the order in which animals finished the race.”
Chinese New Year festivities span over a 15-day period and end with the Lantern Festival on the last day.
Traditionally, married people give kids money, presented in a decorative red envelope.
“It’s called hongbau,” Matarrese said. “They never give amounts with the number four in it, because it is thought to bring bad luck. ‘Four’ in chinese sounds like ‘death.’”
Chinese New Year is a time for people to set aside their work and stress to gather with their families, usually over a feast of traditional Chinese dishes.
“Both my parents are Chinese. We usually have a dinner and it’s always a good time because you sit down with your entire family and you eat and celebrate,” business administration junior Chiu said. “There’s a lot of food items. Every dish represents something.”
These dishes are meant to bring good luck in the new year. Some of the dishes include a whole chicken representing family togetherness, a vegetable dish called jai for cleansing the soul and rice flour cakes called fa gao that increase prosperity.
The CSA will host its own rendition, the 60th annual Chinese New Year banquet at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11 in Chumash Auditorium. The club has hosted the banquet since it was founded in 1964.
“The main goal is to share traditions of Chinese New Year and the Chinese culture with San Luis Obispo and the Cal Poly community,” business administration junior and CSA President Jason Lu said. “We have a lot of different performances planned to represent different cultures within Chinese culture.”
Performances at the banquet will include lion dancing, a play, Tai Chi and a traditional Chinese dance. Food will be catered by Golden China in Atascadero. Tickets cost $12 with food and $5 without.
The CSA is one of the largest clubs on campus, with more than 350 active members of many different ethnicities. Lu said he hopes to see about 250 people attend this year’s banquet.
One of the ways the CSA promotes itself is through collaboration with the Cal Poly Lion Dance Team, which performs at the San Luis Obispo Farmer’s Market on Thursday nights.
“A lot of times people are really intrigued,” captain of the Cal Poly Lion Dance Team Theodore Tan said. “We got yelled at last year for drawing too large of a crowd and subtracting from other people.”
The Lion Dance Team performs acts that most resemble lion dancing in Southern China.
According to Tan, lion dancing originated in China. People thought evil spirits lived everywhere and lion dancing was good luck, especially for the new year. Lions were believed to scare the evil spirits away, mostly by showing the spirits their reflections through mirrors on makeshift lion heads. Tan said the lion represents bravery, knowledge and wisdom.
“The lions are handmade, but they require a lot of skill. We ship them out of China or Malaysia,” computer science senior Tan said. “Sometimes we get lucky and find something in Chinatown, San Francisco. Mostly they’re handmade by people far, far away.”
The Lion Dance Team practices about eight hours a week and currently has 31 members; this is the largest Cal Poly Lion Dance Team in history. The team is non-profit and funded through donors.
“Most of us have a shared understanding of our cultural upbringing,” Chiu said. “Every household is different, but there are traditions and customs (like Chinese New Year) that people from these backgrounds