Hiccup, Grunt, Honk, Grind: Year of the Rabbit

Jiaming Lou, Editor-in-Chief

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year (zhōng guó xīn nián), is a traditional Chinese festivity celebrated every first day of the first month of the year according to the lunar calendar, which converts to sometime between late January and early February on the Gregorian calendar (the thing used in most parts of the world). The celebration of 2023 started January 22. Now, you know it, and I know you well know it: there’s a lot of research you can do on the internet to learn about Lunar New Year–and really, I encourage you to do so!

What this also means is that I probably will save us both some time by not throwing everything I know at you. But there’s one important aspect of the holiday I must mention before we move on: zodiac animals (shēng xiào). It started as a race in which twelve animals were invited to compete; the earlier they got to the finish line, the better their ranking. Of course, that’s not the whole story, but that’s how the twelve animals came to be. The animals have cycled every year–this is why someone can guess your birth year / age based on your zodiac sign; they’re not crazy! 2023 is the year of the rabbit (tù zǐ). For context, before the rabbit came the tiger, and after the tiger will be the dragon. But let’s not dwell on the past and the future too much. With rabbits being the vigilant, deft, and clever creatures they are, the present is a perfect time to learn how rabbits are honored
and how this holiday is celebrated.

Speaking of, this holiday actually lasts fifteen days, starting on NewYear’s Eve (chú xì); this is the most
important celebration, the main events being gathering with family for a big reunion dinner and watching the CCTV’s New Year Gala (chūn jié wǎn huì), which seriously, you should go look up on YouTube (the gala is a countdown to the new year that is broadcasted live, and only the most excellent performers–singers, actors, dancers, etc–are invited on stage). The first day of the new year (chū yī) is then spent with family visiting relatives and giving presents. The rest of the week calls for more family time and also gatherings with friends.
On the eighth day, many start heading back to work. A week later, families wrap up the celebration of the new year with another celebration: the lantern festival (yuán xiāo jié). It is traditional to eat tāng yuán, or “sweet dumpling” (a term I personally challenge because the term “dumpling” is used to refer to, like, three different types of “dumplings” – and besides, the texture tāng yuán of is more of a chewy glutinous rice ball than the wrap of a thin and smooth and sometimes oily dumpling) on this day and decorate lanterns, guess their riddles, go to dragon dances, or watch performances with family. Again, this is simply a high level overview of the much more festive, vibrant, and historically-rooted holiday celebrated by millions of families around the world.

…Including Whitney Young’s very own Asian American Club! On Friday, January 20, AAC hosted a Lunar New Year celebration welcome to all. Paper lanterns hung on strings attached to each of the cafeteria’s pillars as I walked in. The tables were set up in a rectangular outline, leaving an almost stage-like feel to the freed middle space, where long-sleeve (cháng xiù wǔ) dancers, fan and ribbon (sī dài wǔ) dancers, and members and directors of other dances taught warm-ups and the basics of their routines to those interested. As I watched them and simultaneously walked around from table to table, I began noticing the different activities at each table: one was for lantern-making, a second dedicated to dragon and lotus flower origami, a third featured various card-dealing grames, another was solely for mahjong (basically, a tile-based game of Solitaire), and yet another was for playing a game with chopsticks in which you had to use them to pick up as many dried pea balls (believe me, I tried and they were quite hard to pick up) as you can under a minute. The tables featuring games garnered the most attendees, with mahjong winning the most players and onlookers, some holding their Milkis drinks (AAC sold candy and drinks as part of a fundraiser) in suspenseful were other tables short of participants. When it comes to Lunar New Year, especially looking at it on a large-scale, there is much cause for celebration.

Wishing everyone who celebrates and identifies with this holiday a very happy year of prosperity, success, and dream-come-trues!

Photo Credit: Daniel Lee