Sophomore Jessica Zhao may be 6,767 miles from Beijing, but she and many others will get a taste of home life this weekend as Loomis Chaffee celebrates the Lunar New Year on Saturday, January 21, and Sunday, January 22.
“It really touches me that Loomis puts an emphasis on celebrating all Asian cultures along with Western culture,” Jessica said. “The Asian international students on campus represent various countries with different traditions and, through the Lunar New Year celebration, come together to embody the inclusion and love of the Loomis community.”
Senior Emily Khym agrees.
“As a Korean American student who celebrates both New Year’s and Lunar New Year's (Seollal), I appreciate that Loomis Chaffee is honoring the traditions of their students,” she said. “In my Korean culture, Seollal is one of the biggest holidays where families get together to pay respect to their ancestors. Many Koreans and other students are away from home, so it is significant for people like me to be able to celebrate in our home-away-from-home — and in a community that truly cares about our cultures.”
Food is a big aspect of any celebration, and there will be plenty.
On Saturday in the dining hall there will be dishes from local Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants as students are surrounded by Lunar New Year decorations and music from the various countries.
On Sunday there is a special brunch in the dining hall with congee soup, pork and kimchi dumplings, vegetable spring rolls, sweet and spicy tofu, and yakisoba noodles with stir fry vegetables and crispy chicken. After brunch, there are a variety of activities in the SNUG, from dragon dance to Chinese ethnic dances, martial arts, and calligraphy.
“Growing up, Chinese New Year was always my favorite celebration of the year,” Jessica said. “It meant reuniting with extended family members who live far away, eating countless traditional recipes, and welcoming the new year with all my loved ones. My hometown, Beijing, would always be filled with festive lights and door decorations, and neighbors would gift each other presents and send their best wishes. On New Year’s Eve, everyone would gather in front of the TV to watch the annual Spring Festival Gala, a live performance of traditional Chinese dance and music. These traditions date back to thousands of years ago in China and, by celebrating with my friends and family, marks the end of one year and the beginning of another.”
Senior Seth Sukboontip said he enjoys illustrating his Thai culture to the broader Loomis community so others can learn about their classmates’ cultures. Back home, his extended family will gather at his grandparents’ house.
“In addition to the traditional Chinese dishes like steamed fish or spring rolls, we also have some Thai dishes like green curry and tamarind shrimp,” Seth said. “However, one of my favorite parts, like many other Asian students, is the red envelopes from my aunts and uncles. My brothers and I like to come together to count our earnings and plan how to spend the money.”
A tradition during Lunar New year is giving and receiving red envelopes. In Chinese culture, red is associated with energy, positivity, and fortune, so the red envelopes, normally containing money, are given to friends and family as symbols of good luck. At Loomis, red envelopes have been purchased for individual students by parents, faculty, and others. Each envelope contains a coupon for a breakfast sandwich at the Scanlan Center Grill that is valid for the rest of the school year. Those will be given out on Saturday night.
If Emily were back home, she would be celebrating with family.
“To celebrate Seollal, I go to my grandmother's house and gather with all my extended family members. We hold an ancestral rite for our grandfather and our ancestors. After this rite, we eat traditional Korean food together. We always eat ddeokguk (rice cake soup) because eating this soup signifies gaining one year in the lunar calendar. Then we will catch up with family members, play traditional Korean games, and sebae, where I bow to my elders and then receive money to start the new year.”
Part of the entertainment on Sunday on the Island is provided by the Asian Performing Arts of Connecticut, which promotes and retains Chinese cultural arts through programs in dances, martial arts, instrumental music, songs, and other cultural activities. Stephanie Sum, a parent of a 2007 alumnus, is the founder and executive director of the Connecticut group.
Last year the event was just one day, but now it has grown to both days of the weekend. Students are encouraged to wear red and gold.