"Same spirit, different scale"

Chinese students find ways to celebrate New Year

The Spectrum

Ziqian Wang spent her first Chinese New Year away from home studying in her dorm room alone. She spent the day feeling sad and lonely while her friends and family in China were celebrating.

Although it was her country's biggest celebration of the year, at UB, it felt like any other day of the week.

Not all students who move abroad can return home for the holidays, according to Eric Yang, executive director of Confucius Institute (CI). Celebrating in a foreign country is difficult for some students, like Wang. Still, Chinese students in the Buffalo community found different ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year, despite many being far from home.

On Feb. 10, 1,700 people gathered in the Center for the Arts for the annual celebration thrown by the Chinese Club of Western New York (CCWNY) and CI. Some watched the National Spring Festival Gala, while others made traditional paper cuttings and hung them around their home.

"In this global village that we live in now, to live happily and comfortably we need to respect and appreciate other people's language and culture," Yang said.

Yang said it is a gift to be able to appreciate different cultures and it is not good for a Chinese individual to forget his or her cultural roots.

The Chinese New Year typically lasts 15 days. The celebration runs from the New Year Day - the first day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar - to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day, according to history.com.

Typically, those in the northern part of China make dumplings as a family. People living in southeastern areas light up firecrackers for three to four days, according to Ken Hu, president of CCWNY. Because of the festivities, one "could hardly fall asleep," he said.

One thing done as a nation in China, however, is watching the live broadcast of the "National Spring Festival Gala."

Siena Sun, a first-year graduate student in linguistics, said the gala was the only form of televised entertainment during the festive period, watching the event later became a Chinese New Year custom.

Sun had a difficult time during the holiday her first year in the United States.

"Two years ago, when I spent Spring Festival for the first time here, I felt very homesick because I really wanted to speak Chinese that day but all my friends around me were Americans," Sun said.

The response from her non-Chinese friends, upon being told it was Chinese New Year, left much to be desired, according to Sun. It was only then that she realized how important Chinese New Year was to her - it represented China and who she is as a Chinese student.

There was no holiday atmosphere and it was really sad, according to Sun. But things looked up for her when her American friends came to her place with chocolates. They knew it was her first time being away from her family during the festive season.

By the third year away from home, Sun didn't care as much.

Sun made traditional paper cuttings and hung them around her home to make the atmosphere for suited for the festival.

Hu encourages members of CCWNY to form close ties with one another and cherish the Chinese culture they all share. One way to do this is through the celebration of the Spring Festival.

"It's a great holiday and it gives me the right opportunity to remind my kids where they came from and to also enrich some traditions of the Chinese heritage," Hu said.

Wang believes it is very helpful to be around friends especially when without family during the festive season. Wang, who is also the vice president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), wants fellow Chinese international students to be more open-minded and make new friends so that they don't have to be alone during Chinese New Year.

Hu believes the Spring Festival is a dramatic holiday and said it is certainly a different celebration in the United States because not everyone participates in the festivities.

Still Hu has hope for those who wish to celebrate the Spring Festival in the future.

"The spirit is still there," Hu said. "Just that the scale is different ... I would love to see a bigger scale and have more people celebrating together."

Email: features@ubspectrum.com