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What is Lunar New Year?

Written by Alicia Fontaine in Event on February 19, 2019

As the Dog Flees 2018, the Prosperous Pig Trots Into 2019

The empty seats usually filled by quiet and lethargic students at this time of year are a sign of cultural tradition trumping academic studies at Alexander College. The students who do choose to make an appearance look resentful about their poor decision to be stuck in the classroom. I figure they much rather be out with their classmates taking in the various festivities that announce the arrival of the new year.

When asked about what makes Lunar New Year so special, my students admit that it reminds them of home.

I’m sharing what I know about Lunar New Year as an Instructor at Alexander College :


Food during Lunar New Year

The festival begins with a sumptuous New Year’s Eve dinner. This is where families unite to enjoy a feast of homemade dishes. The most popular dish is the steamed fish. The festival lasts for 16 days!

The tradition of steamed fish stems from the fact that the Chinese word for “surplus” sounds similar to the word for fish.

The Chinese have been known to devour the fish in hopes that it will bring wealth in the new year. The celebrations continue with the exchange of red envelopes delivering the first profit of the year.

Celebrations and Events during Lunar New Year

The dominating sounds that can be heard by all include the loud crackling and popping of firecrackers that serve to scare away evil spirits. What follows are the sounds of drumming that accompany the colorful traditional lion dances. These events are said to bring good luck.

Once the excitement has subsided, the highlight for most revolves around the dinner table. Friends and family gather to cook, share and savor the delicacies of Chinese cuisine. Among the dishes include dumplings, nian gao, as well as mandarin oranges.

When festival goers are not out enjoying the shopping and visits to temples, they are at home preparing for the new year. They adorn their homes and neighborhoods in the lucky red color. In addition, they also sweep away the bad luck while cleaning and redecorating.

Even if you are not Chinese nor celebrate this festival, you can relate to it. It has parallels with North American holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. They provide a break from the toil of work and study, and provides a chance to reunite with family, enjoy food with loved ones, and participate in consumerism.

Who Celebrates Lunar New Year

The Chinese are not the only ones who celebrate Lunar New Year. There is a variety of Asian cultures such as Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese who also celebrate. With that, they bring different traditions to the fold.

In a world that is changing so quickly with technology, we see students forced to leave their world behind to enter the competitive academic arena overseas. That said, our students recognize this as the one tradition they hold onto and look forward to the most.

Mirroring the groundhog’s appearance as a prediction for a late winter or early spring in North American tradition, the lion in Chinese tradition symbolizes the blessing of a lucky new year ahead.

Woman posing for the CameraAuthor: Alicia Fontaine grew up overseas in several Asian countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. When she returned to Canada for University, she wanted to replicate the wonderful experience she had had attending international private schools. Thus, she pursued studies in English literature and secondary teacher education.

While she loved the curriculum in Vancouver public high schools, ultimately her passion was for the ESL international community. This led her to join the English for Academic Purposes at Alexander College in Fall 2015. Alicia continues to immerse herself in different cultures by teaching students of different backgrounds, engaging with cultural events, and reminiscing about past experiences abroad in her writing.

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