Ringing in the New Year
For 1.3 billion-plus people, the New Year festivities for 2010 did not come and go in a single midnight hour, nor did they fizzle out with the drop of a massive, 11,875-pound sparkling ball from high above Times Square in New York (because let's face it, the party's over once the ball drops). In fact, for the 1.3 billion people living in China, February 14 was the start of the real New Year and only the beginning of a 15-day-long holiday of gift-giving, festive performances and tons of good food.
So if the quality of a holiday was ever measured by the number of days one could get off work (which, given our aversion to schoolwork, it often is), the Lunar New Year would win by an enormous landslide.
But since overturning centuries-worth of convention and adopting a better holiday was out of the question for some practical-minded folks here in central Maine, the benevolent members of the Asian Cultural Society have long since started the practice of providing Colby with a brief glimpse into the holiday with its annual Lunar New Year Celebration. So this year, on Feb. 20th--Day 7 on the lunar calendar--the organization collaborated with friends from the Martial Arts Club and EVE to celebrate the Lunar New Year at Colby in recognition of the most important traditional holiday in China.
In an effort to reproduce the festive atmosphere of the traditional holiday, the walls around Foss Dining Hall were decorated with red paper cutouts that had the Chinese characters for the words "happiness," "wealth" and "longevity" written on them and were hung upside-down for good luck. It's a well-known fact that the Chinese like to take every available measure and precaution necessary to ensure a bounty of luck, and it was delightful to see that the event's planners had been faithful to the holiday even in this regard.
As soon as students had taken their seats, the celebration exploded with a fiery dragon dance, performed by Lyoe Lee '11 and Adan Hussain '11. In China, the dragon dance started as a way to win favor from the Dragon King, so that he would bless the drought-stricken fields of the farmers with rain. The dragon itself is usually held in high-esteem as a symbol of supernatural power, goodness, vigilance, fertility and poise. Performing the dance is an exciting and spectacular way of expressing gratitude for the past year, and an expectation of good fortune to come.
Next, the audience was shown a 10-minute video clip sent to Kayla Chen '12, president of ACS, by Cali Livingstone '11, who is studying abroad in rural China. Livingstone had been invited to her host family's house in a Chinese village to celebrate the start of the New Year. In the video, Livingstone described the various activities that all the members in the family participated in to mark the coming of the new year, such as making dumplings and having a sunflower-eating competition. She also pointed out that on New Year's Day, people all over China light firecrackers to scare away the old year, nian, and burn money by the gravesite of ancestors because they "believe that [the money] will be sent to the next world."
Although the Lunar New Year celebration orginially began in China, it is not limited to the country alone, as many of China's geographic neighbors, including Korea, Mongolia and Vietnam, also observe the Lunar New Year. Taking the holiday's international reach into account, the celebration at Colby incorporated EVE's performance of "Kangding Love Song," Toni Tsvetanova's '11 performance of "Xiang Ni, Ling Dian Ling Yi Fen," and a dance performance to the Korean pop song, "Sorry, Sorry," performed by Kayla Chen '12, Xinyi Chen '12, Kristina Blazanovic '12, Genevieve Hsueh '12, Kathy Wan '12, Kara Jun Ma '13, and Lloyd Liang '13.
Yet perhaps the highlight of the various festive displays was a Tangsudo demonstration by the College's Martial Arts group. Aaron Kaye '11, a black belt, or the highest-ranking member of the group, introduced the different kicks, fighting stances and punches that the group had learned to do during their training. And of course, it would not be a martial arts demonstration if it didn't involve an element of danger-- one portion of the presentation showed the quintessential wooden kick board demonstrations, another went so as far to show the audience a fighting tactic, which incorporated an attacker using a real knife in combat.
Following the end of the performances, students lined up to taste some of China's holiday dishes and treats--ranging from steamed dumplings to bubble tea to fried rice--that had been prepared by the ACS members in advance. But besides the opportunity to get a taste Chinese cuisine, see diverse performances and learn about the festivities of a different culture, the opportunity to partake in a Lunar New Year festival on campus also meant a great deal to those of Asian heritage who could not go home for the holidays. "Because many of the students could not celebrate Chinese New Year at home with their families, the opportunity to celebrate it here with great support from the Colby community means a lot," said Chen. "It's a holiday that 1.3 billion people celebrate with lavish festivities and excitement, and I hope that ACS was able to replicate that aura to some degree."