Students celebrate Chinese New Year with community members

It was a New Year’s celebration that had the Williams Center on the campus of SUNY Fredonia bustling one February night.

That’s right. The start of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse 2014, was celebrated Feb. 15 with a dinner hosted by the campus Chinese Club for students, faculty and community members.

Lan Cheng, co-advisor to the club, explained the purpose of hosting the dinner is, “Mainly to introduce the campus community to Chinese culture.

“This event was supposed to be held on Friday, Feb. 14, but coincidentally, that is also Valentine’s Day and the space was already reserved.

“Technically, according to the lunar calendar, the new year started on Jan. 31, but today we are celebrating what is the start of our Lenten festival for the New Year.”

Educational and expertly animated slide presentations, as well as all components of the Sunday evening dinner were prepared by the club officers: Yong Zhang, president; Shiyu Liu, secretary; Yulong Chen, treasurer and Quincy Washington, historian.

The sold out event featured a well received slide presentation on the traditions and historical lore that is associated with the New Year, the Chinese Zodiac and specifically the Year of the Horse. According to Cheng, this is the fifth time in calendar recorded history that the Year of the Horse has been celebrated. Also referred to as Nian Festival, Lunar New Year or Spring Festival the Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and marks the approach of spring. People born this year, or in the years 1966, 1978, 1990 and 2002 fall under the Horse symbol according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar.

“Usually there’s lots of tradition that goes along with celebrating the New Year, depending on what region of China you originate from. You definitely have dumplings prepared, usually you get together at one person’s home and have a traditional dinner and there are generally fireworks involved as well.”

According to cultural legend, and depicted in the slide presentations Sunday, the Chinese New Year began with a battle against a mythical beast called the Nian, who would visit on the first day of the new year to eat children, livestock, and crops. To protect themselves, villages would put food in front of their doors believing that the creature would eat that and leave everything else alone. Legend tells that the Nian was afraid of the color red, flames and fireworks – so people would hang red lanterns outside of their doors and set off firecrackers.

Another staple in celebrating the New Year according to Cheng, is the idea of having a new outfit to ring in the New Year with, which should include something “happy” and red. Children are given a red envelope to open as part of the celebration, which usually contains some sort of money, either paper or coin. Guests of Sunday’s dinner were all given envelopes to open, some containing special traditional gifts.

International Education Department member Katrina Hamilton Kraft opened envelopes with her husband Matthew, and sons Devin, Nolan and Liam.

“We all figured out our Chinese Zodiac symbol this evening, and now we’re going to try and figure out if we get along as a family,” she joked.

“Tonight we drove out from Jamestown to attend the dinner, and loved learning about the celebration and the attributes of the Zodiac that are applied to Chinese culture. We love to have opportunities to expose our kids to other cultural experiences, and living in a rural area, we sometimes don’t have that opportunity. We come from diverse backgrounds ourselves, and it’s enriching and enlightening to have our kids get to know that there’s more beyond Chautauqua County’s boundaries, and this was a wonderful opportunity to do that.”

Fredonia physics professor, J. David Swift and his wife Jacqueline enjoyed Sunday’s dinner with two Korean students from the campus and enjoyed learning about their cultural traditions as well. The Korean International Student Society (or “K.I.S.S.”) will be hosting a traditional dinner in April for the campus and community.

Jacqueline stated this is the third year in a row that she and her husband have attended the Chinese Club dinner.

“I think it’s important for students to come together and celebrate their culture. We learned so much and loved being a part of this tonight. Our world is so diverse, that I think the more we can learn from one another fosters more understanding, and ultimately more peace,” she added.

Club president Yong Zhang was encouraged by the sold out attendance for Sunday’s dinner and added she “was happy to see people enjoying themselves and enjoying the dinner.”

Many attendants celebrated by wearing red to the dinner and a sizeable buffet was provided by local restaurant establishment China King.