The traditions and trends associated with the Lunar New Year in China have been celebrated for centuries. According to recent estimates, around 3 billion people observe this holiday on a global scale. Uniting friends and family across barriers of age and distance, the influence of Chinese New Year has spread far beyond the borders of mainland China. This year, however, many typical New Year activities – such as traveling back home and gathering with large groups – have been put on hold due to pandemic-related restrictions. But not even a pandemic has fully dampened the festive spirit of this special time, with people hosting WeChat calls with far-away loved ones and gifting digital hongbao (red packets containing money) to welcome in the Year of the Ox.
On Wednesday, February 10th, over 60 members of William & Mary and nearby communities joined William & Mary Confucius Institute’s online Lunar New Year event, featuring an engaging presentation by visiting professor Xin Ma of Christopher Newport University. The sense of excitement and interest in the information Professor Ma had prepared was palpable in the minutes leading up to the official start of the informal festivities, even in a virtual environment.
Before Professor Ma began her presentation, WMCI’s own Associate Director, Dr. Ying Liu, took a moment to thank everyone in attendance and acknowledge the work of the event’s organizational co-sponsor, Sister Cities of Newport News. Baylee Wang, President of SCNN, also spent a few minutes speaking about the importance of cultural exchange and curiosity, and emphasized the cruciality of the missions of SCNN and WMCI to the development of global citizenship in small communities and on college campuses.
By 7:10 PM, the event was in full swing as Professor Ma started her presentation, which began with an overview of the lunar calendar and the unique timing of Chinese New Year. She also discussed the technical length of the holiday, which spans several weeks, and the massive period of human migration that occurs during the preceding days of chunjie (“Spring Festival”). Professor Ma then introduced some of the well-known traditions that are practiced during the Lunar New Year period, such as sweeping and dusting to get rid of the previous year’s bad luck, traveling long distances to stay with family members, putting up special decorations, setting off fireworks, and making traditional Chinese dishes, which can vary by region. Sharing entertaining anecdotes from her childhood and adult life, Professor Ma made the presentation truly immersive for every participant.
Although the presentation itself ended around 8 PM, Professor Ma graciously extended her time with the attendees to answer questions about certain taboos surrounding the holiday, cultural differences between regional celebrations, and her own personal experiences. As the event came to a close, many participants offered Professor Ma their thanks as well as special wishes of good luck and providence that she had taught them about.
Covid-19 has had impacts across cultures and country boundaries, indifferently affecting how people around the world conduct their lives. But the strength of small, individual communities all over the globe, such as our very own in the Williamsburg area, has allowed for Chinese New Year to be celebrated as it is every year, despite the difficult circumstances that would seek to lower the mood. Doubtless, it is this same strength that will allow more fantastic opportunities for cultural exchange to occur in the future.