Delicately plucking a series of short notes on the guzheng, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, Alex Ma ’17 created a cascade of notes by running her right hand through the strings as she performed “Zhan Tai Feng,” which directly translates to “fighting the typhoon.” As the piece sped up, Ma suddenly ended the song on a single, light high note.
“It’s supposed to be a really intense song, but it also sounds festive at some point, which is why I chose to play it today. Whenever [my family and I] are at home, we listen to a lot of music and sing songs together, so I feel like music is a very important part of Chinese New Year,” said Ma.
Ma’s performance was part of the first charity dinner held for the Lunar New Year. With four tables of faculty and students joined together for an early celebration of the Lunar New Year, which happened last Monday, the New Year Charity Dinner was held last Friday night in the Mural Room of Paresky Commons. The dinner was initiated by Andover Chinese Student Association (ACSA), in collaboration with the Chinese Language Club, the Student Activities’ Office and the BASK in ASK program, a summer program that focuses on environmental issues. The admission fees to the dinner were donated to the Xinli Migrant Worker’s School in Beijing, China, in an effort to renovate the school’s library.
“At Andover, we don’t celebrate a lot of holidays here in general, but there is especially a lack of awareness of Asian holidays, but I think that Chinese New Year is such a big part of so many people’s lives that, not just for the Chinese students, we also need to spread awareness to the entire community, so I don’t want ever to be a year where Chinese New Year goes by and people just walk by each other and don’t know that this is happening around the world,” said Sarah Ding ’17, Co-President of ACSA.
Chinese New Year occurs on the first day of the Lunar Year, and is traditionally celebrated in China with fireworks, food and hanging couplets, two scrolls of poetry hung inside the house.
“The most important thing is for a family to be together. Although Chinese New Year is most literally comparable to the New Year in the Gregorian calendar, in spirit it is most similar to Christmas because it involves family and unity, as well as holiday cheer and gift-giving. In Chinese culture, this is given in the form of red envelopes from older generations to younger ones,” said Claudia Meng ’18.
In addition to Ma’s performance, Meng and Albert Wang ’18 animatedly recounted the the origin of Chinese New Year in a presentation. One famous legend surrounding Chinese New Year is about Nian, a monster who terrorized a nearby village on the first day of every year. One year, however, a god visited the village and revealed Nian’s weaknesses to keep him away: Nian was scared of loud noises, the color red and other strange creatures. By using these methods in the form of firecrackers and lanterns, the villagers were able to drive Nian away permanently.
“It is always interesting to see how traditional stories can not only shape customs, but language as well. Today, the act of celebrating Chinese New Year is known as ‘Guo Nian,’ which, when literally translated, means ‘to overcome Nian.’ That’s exactly what the villagers in this story did, and it’s interesting that this story became such a landmark within Chinese culture that it has shaped how we refer to the very holiday itself,” said Meng.
The dinner also included a crafts table in which participants were taught to create Chinese lanterns out of empty red pockets, decorated red envelopes usually filled with money and given to friends and family on Chinese New Year.
“Every year before I came to Andover, it’s always been that this is the time of the year where everyone, all the members of your family come together and have a good time, take a good break for a week. I feel like at Andover, I lack that feeling I normally [have] during this time of the year. This [event] is a great way to revitalize and replenish that feeling,” said Suning Wang ’18.