GW's Lunar New Year Celebration Draws Global Audience

The annual event was virtual this year and ushered in the Year of the Ox.

February 16, 2021

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By B.L. Wilson

In its first virtual celebration of the Lunar New Year, George Washington University’s Confucius Institute rang in the Year of the Ox, which is associated with prosperity, honesty and integrity, a positive sign of rebuilding in 2021 as the world struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from GW’s Asian community shared stories of holiday rituals with hundreds of guests on Zoom from across the United States and around the world, including Prague, Dublin and the District of Columbia, where a fifth-grade class of school children joined.

Shule Chen, B.A. ‘20, a program assistant at the GW Confucius Institute and a graduate student in media and strategic communications in the School of Media and Public Affairs, kicked off the event by introducing a video performance by the San Diego Southern Sea and Lion Dance Association. The Lion Dance is a prominent feature at weddings, grand openings, birthdays and the Chinese New Year.

Opening remarks were made by professor Steven J. Balla, co-director of the Regulatory Studies Center, research director of the Confucius Institute and associate professor of political science, public policy and public administration and international affairs.

Having lived in China, Dr. Balla said, he has memories of  [the Lunar New Year] with “vivid fireworks that light up every street corner,” visits to the ancestral village home of friends, people crammed on trains and temple fairs staging lion dances and theatrical skits.   

Several GW students briefly described observances that take place throughout Asia, beginning with Ms. Chen’s discussion of the 16-day Lunar Festival in Mainland China. “Imagine,” she said, “the government gave you a kind of spring break...that each year leads to the biggest migration of Chinese from urban to rural areas.”

Throughout Asian countries, giving money to children is a key feature of lunar celebrations for good luck or to “bribe evil spirits so they won’t take them away,” Ms. Chen said. As with most holidays, feasts and foods take on a central role, such as the nian gao, a type of rice cake, soup balls called tangyuan and “dumplings, a traditional staple that look like golden nuggets,” Ms. Chen recalled. She also pointed out her flowing red Han dynasty attire that is customarily worn.

In Korea, first-year graduate student Sarah Jeong said, the Lunar New Year is celebrated on the second day with many dressing in traditional clothing, offering food and bowing to the ancestors, called "jesa," before honoring living elders.

Joshua Kai, associate director of the International Services Office, a cosponsor of the virtual celebration, said, "The year 2020 was tough for everyone. It is easy to feel lost and disconnected ... so [the virtual celebration] was a great opportunity to bring people together."

Other cosponsors of GW's Lunar New Year Celebration were the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, East Asia National Research and Resource Center, East Asian Language and Literatures Department, and the Organization of Asian Studies.

On behalf of the Multicultural Student Services Center, which helped organize the event, Director Michael Tapscott took the occasion to offer support to the Asian and Pacific Island community after a year marred by anti-Asian sentiment in the United States.

"It has been a worldwide embarrassment for our nation, one of the saddest things I've witnessed," he said. He announced that there will be a new lounge dedicated to the Asian and Pacific Island community at the MSSC and elicited suggestions for cultural icons to include in the lounge.

"The challenge is that America is still an acculturating country," Mr. Tapscott said. "We must be patient with ourselves but we must push ourselves."