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Owls meet Dragon: Kenyon celebrates 2024 Lunar New Year

Owls meet Dragon: Kenyon celebrates 2024 Lunar New Year

COURTESY OF CHAU ANH NGUYEN

It’s two and a half months into 2024, but for some Kenyon students, last Saturday marked a true new beginning: Lunar New Year, which the Kenyon community observed at a campus-wide celebration.

The holiday celebrates the arrival of spring, falling on the first day of the lunisolar calendar, which, depending on the year, converts to somewhere between the end of January and the middle of February. Lunar New Year is a major holiday held in China, Korea, Vietnam and countries with a significant population of Chinese descent.

The event at Kenyon was sponsored by Jack Au ’73, the Center for Global Engagement (CGE), the Asian and Middle East Studies Department, the Modern Languages & Literatures Department, the International Studies Department, Kenyon Asian Identities, the Chinese Culture Club and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Kenyon students gathered together to welcome the Year of the Dragon in the Gund Commons Ballroom, which was adorned with red decorations like couplets and lanterns. Red is commonly associated with the holiday as an auspicious color, and though the email from CGE did not specify the dress code, the majority of the attendees followed this practice. The emcees, performers and some students in the audience donned traditional clothing, such as the Qipao and Áo dài

The room was packed with over 200 people, not just the ones who customarily celebrate Lunar New Year but also their friends. Louis Schirmer ’24, wearing a red sweatshirt per the suggestion of his friend Susan Li ’27, said “[Lunar New Year] was something we discussed in our [SPAN 112: Self and Society Intensive Intro] class yesterday. I heard that [red] is a symbolic color for the Lunar New Year, so I wanted to come properly equipped. […] I know next to nothing about Chinese culture, honestly. But it’s something that I want to learn more about, and Susan’s helping me with that.” Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor of Chinese Jianhua Bai also explained that some of the attendees were local residents from the dog park he frequents.

The event started with the cheerful tune of “The Dance of the Golden Snake,” a traditional Chinese song performed by the Chinese Music Ensemble, led by Visiting Assistant Professor Bess Xintong Liu. Next, the introductory- and intermediate-level Chinese classes presented a traditional poem and a song celebrating the Lunar New Year. POCapella also served a rendition of “The Brightest Star in the Night Sky,” a well-known Chinese song. 

A new addition to the program this year was the student panel, where three students and a Fulbright teaching assistant detailed the different aspects of how the holiday is celebrated in Mainland China, Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan, like diversity in activities and food. Then, the audience put their knowledge to the test with a round of Kahoot!. Not only did the attendees enjoy food and gain exposure to new cultures, but they also got to bring home red envelopes courtesy of Au, as symbols of good luck and warding off evil spirits. 

Reflecting on how the celebration of Lunar New Year has changed over his three decades of teaching at Kenyon, Bai said, “I think the overall quality is getting better and better. It’s also because of international students. Now that Kenyon has students from Asia and elsewhere, there is a stronger presence.” Although he missed the intimacy of smaller celebrations during the ’90s when the students in Chinese class would gather in his house for a traditional meal during this day, he acknowledged the importance of sharing the traditions of the Lunar New Year with the Kenyon community: “We should do more of this kind of activity so that students can feel involved and have an opportunity to share.”

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