Lunar New Year snakes its way to IWU

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Most people you’d ask would be able to tell you if they’re a Cancer or a Leo, but what about if they’re a Monkey or a Dog?
Even if you’re not sure where you fall in the Chinese zodiac, Illinois Wesleyan University’s Asian Pacific Student Association and the Asian Studies department are inviting everyone to unleash their inner-animal to celebrate the year of the snake.
On Sunday, Feb. 10 at 5:30 p.m., APSA and the Asian Studies team will host the 15th annual Lunar New Year Celebration in Hansen Student Center. Though it is more commonly known as the Chinese New Year, various countries around Asia celebrate the Lunar New Year.
“It starts with the new moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later,” said sophomore Sophia Li, a Chinese international student. “It symbolizes the beginning of a new year, so families unite together to give thanks for last year’s fortune and celebrate a new year’s prosperity.”
The campus Lunar New Year Celebration began in 1998. The Asian Studies faculty decided that celebrating the Lunar New Year would be a good opportunity to share Asian culture with Illinois Wesleyan faculty and students.
“The intention was to create an Asian culture event that would be meaningful for our community as a whole,” said professor of history Thomas Lutze, the Asian Studies Department chair.
In the early years, the Lunar New Year Celebration was held in Kemp Hall. Faculty, staff and students alike would gather together to celebrate the new year by making dumplings known as jiaozi.
The event grew exponentially as the years went on. Within three years, the participation has increased from 30 to 300 people.
“We outgrew I-house,” Lutze said, laughing. “Before too long we moved the event to the Hansen Student Center.”
Interest in Asian Studies has been growing on campus, reflecting the nation’s deepening relationship with the region. With the number of international students from Asia also increasing every year, the importance of the Lunar New Year Celebration here at IWU is doubly important.
This holiday, which is meant to be a time of celebration, “has turned into one of those times when most Vietnamese students would be terribly homesick,” sophomore Zung Do said, a student from Vietnam.
Because of this, the Lunar New Year Celebration developed into something more significant than just a celebration of culture. It became a source of comfort to the international students spending time away from their families.
To them, the Lunar New Year is equivalent to Thanksgiving, Christmas and our New Year put together.
“It is encouraging to know that other members in the school really care about us international students. They help us celebrate the Lunar New Year in a way that is different from what we do back home, but is still really heart-warming and enjoyable,” Do said.
Shenyee Choong, a first-year international student from Malaysia, is grateful for the campus recognition of the Lunar New Year. This will be the first time she experiences the campus event.
“It feels good that someone actually knows what the Lunar New Year is and that it is actually celebrated here. I feel more at home and welcome,” Choong said.
This year marks the year of the snake. To celebrate, food and live entertainment will be provided at the Lunar New Year celebration.
“We will have tables showing the traditions of different countries with fun activities, including calligraphy,” ASPA President Priscilla Ro said.
This year, the entertainment will feature a traditional Japanese drum performance by Tsukasa Taiko.
Based out of Chicago, Tsukasa Taiko offers taiko drum instruction, education and performances. Its mission is to preserve, develop and pass on the traditional concepts of Japanese art as a cultural legacy, and to utilize these concepts in expanding and evolving the taiko art form.
“It will be a wonderful opportunity to have a nice dinner before the end of the weekend and experience the culture and entertainment of the Lunar New Year,” Ro said.