Northwestern students celebrate Lunar New Year while following COVID-19 precautions

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

To welcome the Year of the Tiger, NU students are finding ways to celebrate on and off campus this Lunar New Year.

Jenna Wang, Reporter

Northwestern students are celebrating the Lunar New Year on and off campus and maintaining their traditions during the pandemic this year.

Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival, is one of the most important holidays in China. It marks the beginning of spring and the start of the new year according to the lunar calendar. Traditionally, it is celebrated with firecrackers, red envelopes and large feasts with family. 

Weinberg sophomore Rui Wen celebrated Lunar New Year a few days shy of the actual festival date. 

Instead of traditionally celebrating the start of the new year on Feb. 1, she and her friends enjoyed Chinese food at the Technological Institute last week. She said she made sure to clean her room before the first few days of the new year, in accordance with tradition. 

“If you sweep the floor on those days, it means that you’ll scrape away your luck and fortune,” Rui Wen said. 

For Rui Wen, Feb. 1 is the day before her two midterms, so she had to celebrate early. However, she is not the only student trying to maintain some tradition amid an unusual Lunar New Year because of the pandemic.  

In years past, Weinberg junior Derek Wen said he has loved spending time with family, enjoying a big feast and accumulating money gifted in red packets — which symbolize good luck — along the way. 

“With a lot of my relatives still in China, I don’t talk to them very often, so it’s very nice to see them whenever it’s the New Year,” Derek Wen said. 

But recently, the pandemic has limited his celebration plans. Last year, he ordered takeout and celebrated with a few friends. This year, as the social chair of the Taiwanese American Students Association, he plans to host a Lunar New Year cooking event and a dinner at his apartment. 

Derek Wen also is looking forward to attending his first-ever Celebrasia in March, which is an annual NU Lunar New Year event. Being a transfer student graduating next fall has made it all the more important for him to attend, he said. 

“This will actually be my one and only Celebrasia, which is kind of sad,” Derek Wen said. “But I’m pretty excited because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.” 

Communication sophomore Jessica Cheng is also looking forward to the Chinese International Students Association Spring Festival event, which will be held mid-February. As the head of event planning, she said dealing with the unpredictability that has come with the pandemic has been difficult.

However, it hasn’t fully gotten in the way of her celebrations this year. Because she spent all of last school year online in China, this will be her first Lunar New Year spent in the United States apart from her family back home, she said. 

Without any midterms during the week, she said she plans to wake up at 6 a.m. to watch the celebratory variety shows in China, facetime with friends and eat with roommates. She said it is a moment for her to feel closer to her heritage. 

“Celebrating Chinese New Year makes me feel like a Chinese,” Cheng said. “It’s just a feeling, like this is a time you can relax and feel happy.”

Though she doesn’t have her family by her side this year, she said the holiday also provides a period of time to distract her from the constant academic work. 

The Lunar New Year is also a time for starting anew. For Rui Wen, the new year for the Western calendar doesn’t align with her as well as the lunar calendar does. 

“The Chinese New Year is just a time for me to feel like now it’s actually the New Year,” Rui Wen said. 

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Twitter: @jennajwang

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