Missourians welcome year of the dragon

Daphne Yu

art by Joanne Lee
As the excitement surrounding the beginning of 2012 winds down, some Asian Americans are just gearing up to celebrate the lunar new year.
Although known as “Chinese New Year,” the holiday is celebrated by many East Asians – Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and Mongolians included.
For those who follow the Gregorian (western) calendar, New Years is simply a way to mark the passing of 365 days. For Asians who acknowledge the lunar calendar, however, New Year holds a more spiritual and mythical meaning.
“In America, the new year is like one of those holidays where it doesn’t have a deep meaning other than a new start or seeing family, but Chinese New Year is really about everything in life,” Taiwanese-American sophomore Esther Liu said. “A lot of my non-Chinese friends don’t really know all that much about Chinese New Year. The average American doesn’t understand how much of a big deal Chinese new year is to Chinese people and how much significance it holds in Chinese culture … all they know is ‘gung hay fat chow.’”
Rising from the myths of ancient China, Chinese New Year is the most important holiday to those who celebrate it, according to the History Channel. The origins of Chinese New Year revolve around the bravery, fear and intelligence of the Chinese long ago, when people rejoiced not for a new year, but for the extermination of a monster  — Nian (meaning ‘year’ in direct translation) — who terrorized the people of China many thousands years ago.
As one legend has it, Nian would appear the first day of every spring to eat the people of a Chinese village, then return to a cave high in the mountains for the rest of the year. After many ploys on the part of the people to appease the monster’s hunger, the citizens met a man who told them how to rid themselves of the monster — by using the things Nian was afraid of: noise and the color red.
The people exploded bamboo, hung red banners everywhere and dressed in red, which successfully scared away the monster.
All of the devices used then play an important part in present celebrations. Bamboos are now the firecrackers commonly set off in the rural areas (they have been banned from the urban areas for safety issues) and seen in decorations; red banners are hung around Asian communities and seen as the “lucky” color . In addition, because the people no longer had to sacrifice food to feed the hungry monster, it became customary to have a feast around the time of Chinese New Year.
“My favorite part has to be the food,” Liu said. “It’s tradition that you always prepare the best food so that the new year will reflect its qualities, which just means lots of yummy Chinese food. The good food makes for a good mood and it’s really nice to just see everyone happy and being worry-free.”
Since food is a vital part of Chinese New Year celebrations, the Chinese Culinary, Arts and Language club here will have a party after school today to bring the Asian culture a little closer to home.
“I plan on doing something for Chinese New Year,” said Olivia Zhang, leader of Chinese Culinary, Arts and Language Club. “However, the difficult part is planning the day. I’m planning to do a Chinese Party after school just like the dumpling day we had last year.”
In the United States, celebration happens with simpler Asian foods, instead of with an elaborate Asian cuisine. Liu realizes living in the middle of the United States does not give Asian Americans as much access to the authentic and traditional foods and clothing those living in Asia have. But, she said, “you take what you can get and make the most out of it.”
Zhang, on the other hand, feels celebrating the new year in itself is more than enough to make it genuine.
“I definitely think that preserving Chinese tradition is important because it’s part of your heritage,” Zhang said. “Even though you were born in America, you still know you are still Chinese, so preserving that tradition connects you to the Chinese ways.”
Connected to Chinese New Year is also the zodiac, where every year is assigned an animal and they cycle every twelve years. This year is the year of the dragon, the fifth animal on the zodiac, according to the zodiac myth from 2,000 years ago. As Zhang learns the new year customs from her family, sophomore Charlie Gan discovers them from the Columbia Chinese Language School. When New Year arrives, Gan and his classmates put on verbal performances to show their speaking abilities, perform the traditional “dragon or lion dance” and each student is assigned to bring food to share.
“Location shouldn’t limit the way you celebrate,” Gan said. “I know that at my Chinese school we celebrate [Chinese New Year], and everyone is just as happy as the people celebrating in China. We fire fireworks, really small ones … we all get ‘hong bao‘ from our teachers and our family having some lucky number of dollars and just have a great time.”
Senior Anna He, who moved to the United States during elementary school, said her favorite part of the season is the days of the “hong baos.” Having celebrated Chinese New Year in China, He also remembers other perks — especially not going to school. He and her classmates got a two week break during the festival and said it was the equivalent to winter break in American schools.
“In a country were students are literally worked to death,” He said, “taking two weeks off of school to celebrate this holiday signifies that [Chinese New] year is an important tradition that every Chinese needs to celebrate.”
Lunar New Year does not hold as much credence in American Culture, where this year, Jan. 23 is just another school day. But Gan believes the holiday should not just be considered a “Chinese holiday”; instead, it should be hailed as important in many cultures.
“Chinese new year is based on the lunar calendar, so as long as you believe in that calendar, sure, you could celebrate it too,” Gan said. “And of course…you wouldn’t have the same celebrating techniques but you could still celebrate the day. We make resolutions on [western] new years, some that are never going to happen and some that we forget right after we make it. But Chinese New Year … it’s more about the family and realizing all the great things we have and also improving yourself.”
Across the World in Asia: 
Travelling home for Chinese New Year in China reached an all-time high, causing problems for transportation systems and their websites.
Birth rates rise in Asian countries in hopes of better luck for children born in the year of the dragon, MSNBC reports.
North Korea celebrates Lunar New Year remembering the death of and honoring  former leader.