Celebrating the Lunar New Year far from home

Students reflect on the family and traditions they miss as they celebrate the Lunar New Year.


When Quan Liang was 11 years old, he moved from China to the United States. If he had to describe the Lunar New Year in one word, it would be “family.”

“[Lunar New Year] is the most important time because usually in my family, everybody is busy with their job, they live in different cities, but within that time period of Lunar New Year, everybody gathers around and everybody has a good time,” said Liang, a senior accounting major.

The Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year, Vietnamese Tet and Korean Solnal, among others, is a week-long festival that begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar. The holiday typically falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Nhi Nguyen, a freshman management information systems major who moved from Vietnam to America when she was 4 years old, said the Lunar New Year is a time for families to “put aside differences” and “celebrate the connection [they] have with each other.”

Families gather on Lunar New Year’s Eve and Day and children receive red envelopes filled with money called “lai see” in Cantonese. They serve traditional dishes like Chinese yuanxiao, or sticky rice balls, which represent family unity. On the last day of the Lunar New Year, there is oftentimes a lantern festival, where families will gather to light colorful lanterns and honor deceased ancestors, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Most people in the states might think Christmas or Thanksgiving is their big holiday,” said Serena Zhang, a senior accounting major who moved to the U.S. from China when she was 19. “And definitely in Chinese culture, Lunar New Year is the biggest cultural event that everyone has to go home [for]. Whenever you work or wherever you work, you have to go back to your hometown.”

For many students, going home for the Lunar New Year is impossible due to distance.

Xinjian Li, a senior graphic and interactive design major from China, said celebrating the Lunar New Year away from his family has been difficult.

“The Chinese New Year is after Winter Break here, so I have to go to school,” Li said. “So, it’s kind of hard to go back to China to celebrate. International students don’t have family here, so they just celebrate with their friends. You don’t really feel [a sense of] real home here.”

Nguyen said her family celebrates the Lunar New Year with their church, neighbors and friends because their extended family does not live in the U.S. 

“Particularly with my family, we don’t really have much family here in America,” Nguyen said. “So on the holiday, it’s more of a volunteering day for us. Our church puts on a little New Year festival. Every single year we offer services, so this year, I’m participating in a few dances…and we help come up with a few carnival games.”

The cultural differences surrounding the Lunar New Year in the U.S. and China has been jarring, Zhang said.

“I never felt like [Lunar New Year] was that big of a deal until I came to the states where like no one actually celebrated,” Zhang said. “I can’t really celebrate with my family…I’m not saying I’m a homesick person, but every year when it comes to Lunar New Year, I get homesick really, really badly.”

Liang said he wishes the Fox School of Business would promote celebrating other cultural holidays, like the Lunar New Year.

“Despite having a lot of international students from all over…that study in Fox School of Business, [the school] doesn’t really show their appreciation,” Liang said.

“We’re not asking to like give us a show…all we are asking is if people are going to celebrate Christmas, and there’s always going to be a Christmas theme event inside of Fox School of Business…all we’re asking for is some recognition because it’s as big a deal as Christmas for us,” he added. 

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