How recognition for Lunar New Year has changed

By Bryan Doan and Scotty Ninh, Feb. 13, 2o24

Exchanging red envelopes filled with money, captivating performances that feature lions or dragons dancing, an array of firecrackers, brings joy to communities around the world during  Lunar New Year.

Beyond these, Lunar New Year marks a new beginning, with celebrations igniting a sense of hope, renewal, prosperity and cultural unity all around the world. At Cal Poly Pomona, the celebration of Lunar New Year not only connects the community to the rich and diverse campus but also strengthens the commitment to inclusivity.

The Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center has made efforts to create a Lunar New Year event that will be open for students and faculty to partake in.

Members of the Asian American community and their diaspora counterparts evolved in celebrations for the holiday as they invite other cultures and ethnicities to join in, promoting diversity and educating the rest of the world about its importance to the Asian community.

Jack Fong, professor of sociology, emphasized the inclusivity and community-building significance of Lunar New Year.

“A holiday like Lunar New Year is very accessible for anyone in any culture, No. 1 because it’s not a political holiday, and No. 2, the Asian diaspora that celebrates it is pretty much everywhere around the world at this point in small pockets of communities,” Fong said. “It’s not just this party, it’s about building community and I think by having a holiday that’s not political, that’s how community is built because it’s when you get political then communities are not built.”

Although widely known throughout Eastern Asia, globalization played a major role in the recognition of the Lunar New Year in other parts of the world. Bridging the culture to the public with the use of media trends, companies – most notably Disney and Target –aided in the widespread acknowledgment and celebration of this holiday by incorporating themes and the culture to the brand.

A red envelope placed on a bed of yellow chrysanthemums. | Bryan Doan

“If you promote their culture, you increase spending by that culture,” Fong said. “So the fact that you’re now showing more of this in a movie or more of that in a commercial means that certain elements of your culture can be a driving force for the economy. So why not celebrate it and bring that demographic in?”

The variety of traditions that come with Lunar New Year allows for an easy point of entry for everyone to participate and be immersed in the rich culture. Even the simplest aspects can spark a sense of appeal, drawing in those who may want to experience it.

Andrea Mae Cunanan, a psychology student and social justice leader at the Asian Pacific Islander Student Center reflected on the widespread appeal of Lunar New Year traditions.

“Food is a universal way to show your love and appreciation, and it’s cheesy, but it’s very true,” said Cunanan. “Like it may be daunting trying new foods, but it’s the most simple, purest and also the most enjoyable way to learn something new about a different culture.”

With each Lunar New Year comes a unique zodiac animal. This year the spotlight falls on the dragon, distinguished for its high levels of intelligence, ambition and energy.

Although Lunar New Year celebrations are traditionally seen in Chinese customs, other cultures have their own interpretations of the zodiac. These interpretations typically come from each culture having different folklore or mythology, and as a result a different set of animals that are used in Lunar New Year traditions.

“For Chinese New Year in Thailand, when the motif of the Dragon surfaces anywhere it’s actually a Thai serpent that is in Thai folklore,” Fong said. “In certain aspects of Vietnamese practices the rabbit is replaced by the cat.”

Lunar New Year not only brings the community together through its festivities but also offers everyone the opportunity to engage with the culture, be a part of the liveliness and to celebrate the prosperity the holiday will bring. As it continues to evolve, Lunar New Year remains a valued time for families and communities to strengthen bonds and look forward to a prosperous year ahead.

“It’s a great opportunity to just decide what your new year is going to look like and hope for the best,” said Lily Liang, a gender, ethnic, and multicultural studies student and social justice leader at the APISC. “And I think that brings a lot of people together because we all, in the end, just want good for each other and for ourselves.”

The 21st Lunar New Year celebration hosted by CPP’s Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center on Feb. 22 will showcase a diverse selection of cultural performances such as lion dancing, a variety of delicious food options, and engaging hands-on activities where students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the festivities such as crafting their own keychains and jewelry as part of the celebration.

“A big part of (Lunar New Year celebrations) is to be in community with each other, and so I see it as a time to obviously celebrate the Lunisolar Calendar that they’re welcoming in, but they’re in community with their family, friends, peers and being collective together in a celebration,” said Lylannie Ducut, retention coordinator of the APISC.

Displayed in an Asian supermarket, is a banner honoring the year of the dragon. | Bryan Doan

Feature image courtesy of Nicole Miyoshi

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