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Chinese New Year celebration: Ancient traditions explored Chinese New Year–Ray - Illustration by Casey Kleeb Full view

Chinese New Year celebration: Ancient traditions explored

Illustration by Casey Kleeb
Illustration by Casey Kleeb

By Ray Leonard, Volunteer

At 2 p.m. Feb. 8, the cozy loft of the campus bookstore will become host to delicious homemade traditional Chinese dumplings and informal lectures from lecturers at the Confucius Institute.

“It’s very rewarding, learning about Chinese culture,” Rachael Epstein, UAA Bookstore events coordinator, said.

Parking during this time is free as well.

Topics of discussion will revolve around Chinese cultures and traditions with an emphasis on the “New Spring” and Chinese zodiac — this year being the year of the Snake.

Most American’s knowledge of Chinese cooking and understanding of the Chinese zodiac usually does not extend past Panda Express and the restaurant’s red zodiac pamphlet placemats. There is, however, a deeper tradition behind the millennia-old customs.

During the 15-day celebration, which began Jan. 1 of the lunar calendar, Chinese family and friends exchange gifts and share food with one another.

“It’s the American equivalent of Christmas,” Jiajia Ru, Chinese language instructor and Confucius Institute member, said. As beautiful Chinese lanterns adorn streets, “the whole family cooks together. Some people believe that dumplings bring good luck. … Other families even have contests between each other to see who can make the best dumplings.”

Despite the different regions throughout China, most traditions are “very similar” according to Ru — with some slight variations of the specific types of food eaten during the celebration.

The Chinese Zodiac revolves around a 12-year mathematical system. Each year in the cycle is associated with a specific animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog or pig. Depending on the year a person is born, Ru said, the accompanying animal will dictate their personality, attributes and even potential marital partners.

There are also five different elements — metal, wood, water, fire and earth — that can be affixed to each animal, creating a unique 60-year cycle.

Most modern Chinese people do not acknowledge each element during a celebration.

“Such things are the work of a fortuneteller,” Ru said. “They can tell you whether or not that element is lucky or unlucky.” Some special occasions like marriage and funerals rely on the elements.

 

The Chinese Spring Festival celebration and dumpling making event will be hosted from 2-5 p.m. at the UAA Bookstore. The event is open to the public.

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