The Lunar New Year can be a celebration that is at once intensely personal and introspective and also a deeply shared cultural experience. To better understand what this time looks like for students on Princeton’s campus, The Prospect solicited responses from our editors and staff, as well as staffers from The Daily Princetonian at large.
The following responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Having grown up in the United States, where trips to China in January and February were few and far between, experiencing Lunar New Year in Hangzhou was a revelation. For the week or so of Chinese festivities, it seemed that red firecrackers, stretching endlessly on either side of a string, were going off at every hour of the day and in every crevice of the city — and because most workers, except for those in the most essential services, have the week off, the streets were more crowded than ever. It’s a lot of revelry, yet it never felt excessive; that period of time, drenched in hot pot broth and pungent sorghum liquor, is meant to be spent with family and friends in anticipation of a fortuitous year ahead.
Celebrating on Princeton’s campus, the best I could do is to imitate these traditions with the limited resources I had: harried pre-midnight dorm cleaning, watching the CCTV New Year’s Gala, and listening to some of my favorite Chinese music. The highlight of my day was visiting my friend’s room to partake in oranges and yee sang, a collection of pickled vegetables and fish that we mixed together while saying questionable wishes for the new year. To substitute for fresh fish, we used store-bought smoked salmon; something about the taste and texture, simultaneously foreign and familiar to the dish, felt suited to the occasion.
Head Editor, The Prospect
Lunar New Year has always been one of my favorite holidays. When I was one year old, I was adopted from China, so Lunar New Year is a time in which I feel particularly connected to my culture. Every year, my parents and I celebrate by decorating our house with red lanterns, paintings, and paper cuttings. In the past, we have spent the day watching dragon dances, or with family friends, making dumplings. For me, Lunar New Year is a time to spend time with family and friends and to welcome the start of the new year. In 2022, Lunar New Year fell on my birthday, so I felt especially lucky this year!
Senior Writer, The Prospect
I live in a pretty independent family, which means eating dinner alone sometimes, only seeing glimpses of each other on the way to rehearsals, and rushing to school while my dad and sister are still asleep. To me, Lunar New Year is a day when time stops. At the dining table, our lives are no longer busy. Instead, we take time to arrange the dishes so my sister, the youngest of the family, can reach her favorite foods. We take time to position the chairs so my grandparents sit at the head of the table. We take time to wait for my grandpa, the oldest of the family, to take the first bite before we dig in, even if he insists that my sister and I eat first.
As the spring semester has picked up speed, Lunar New Year has been a good opportunity to take a moment to slow down. Sitting at SCHouse with my friends, I was able to reflect on how I have begun to build a home away from home; I am grateful that my friends, despite not celebrating Lunar New Year themselves, were happy to put their own schedules on hold to ensure that I could have this experience. And for me, sure, I might have a problem set, some readings, and a draft essay due this week, but as I sat with my friends, I let time stand still and appreciated the moment.
Assistant Editor, The Prospect
I’m not one to be in the habit of keeping — or even coming up with — New Year’s resolutions. At the beginning of each January, I watch with equal shades of amusement, perplexion, and curiosity as my friends create recurring Google Calendar events for trips to the gym, draft sweeping revisions to unstable sleep schedules, and toss together pescetarian-friendly arrangements at the Whitman College salad bar. I confess, I do enjoy watching the relentless pursuit of New Year’s resolutions; there’s a frenetic energy around, a bold pursuit of grand, ambitious ideals beholden to nothing and no one — a triumph of mind over matter.
By the final week of the month, of course, it’s all over. Google Calendars no longer reflect reality; 10 a.m. wake-ups are back, and salad bar visits are merely a faded memory. The final week of January is when the status quo returns, the new-car smell of the year fades, and life continues — as it always does. Accordingly, it’s around this time every year that I congratulate myself for having not engaged in the foolhardy exercise of New Year’s resolutions in the first place.
I think, perhaps, that’s why Lunar New Year — which usually falls around this exact time — appeals to me so much instead. The values and traditions of Lunar New Year demand nothing of you; there are no resolutions to painstakingly follow, no pressure to begin anew, or to commit to drastic life changes. Instead of setting rules for the year ahead, Lunar New Year expresses hope and joy; instead of telling us to do better in our lives, the holiday embraces the warmth and belonging already found around us.
This year, on the evening of Feb. 1, I huddled inside SCHouse with a friend, the two of us laughing together over a bowl of steaming hot spicy beef. I needled him about when he’d stop going to the gym; he teased me about enabling his unproductive ways — such as eating out on Nassau Street on a Tuesday night. The snow was shoveled to the edges of the sidewalks outside; the semester was picking up steam; the year was already well underway.
I think I can say this: Lunar New Year is a celebration of what we have instead of what we don’t. As the Year of the Tiger begins, that’s what I’m choosing to keep in mind.
Contributing Writer, Features