Lunar New Year, a Commingling of Asian Cultures

The GW community gathered for a festive celebration of the Year of the Dragon on the Mount Vernon campus.

February 11, 2024

Lunar New Year 2024

GW community members celebrated the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon Friday evening on the Mount Vernon campus. (Photos: Lily Speredelozzi/GW Today)

The Lunar New Year, the new moon rising as a harbinger of spring in Asian culture, was celebrated by Asian students at George Washington University and others who appreciate the  festivities and packed Post Hall on the Mount Vernon campus.

Red and gold lanterns, symbols of good luck and joy, were strung around the top of the room that was packed with students and others who partook of a voluminous spread of lo mein and rice noodles—"the egg rolls were the best“—and fortune cookies.

A clash of cymbals and drums set the evening in motion, with a performance by lion dancers from Chua Martial Arts who bounced and swirled around the room in a sinewy display of animal spirits that they have dedicated to keeping the art vibrant.

Daniel Sam, a first-year student, loved the dance and thought the room decorations were well put together. “I love the red, obviously symbolizes good luck and prosperity. The food is great,” he said. “I’m from California so I’m used to Lunar New Year festivals and even though this is not on the same scale it is nice to experience.”

It no doubt helped that he won a compact towel from a range of gifts being given ranging from Bluetooth speakers and Apple AirTags to yoga mats and water bottles. At the event organized by Julia Rogers, student program associate in the GW Division of Student Affairs, everyone in attendance left with a gift. Laci Weeden, assistant dean for family engagement and the Mount Vernon campus, was there, as well as other staff and faculty mingling with the students.

“It is a very important day for Asian families,” said first-year student Cindy Liao, holding court at a table to demonstrate the craft—fine art really—of paper cutting. “Usually, Chinese families will hang the paper cuts on windows and doors,” Liao said. “It means luck for us.”

It was also like being back home for Zhihe Zhong, a first-year student, who was enjoying the atmosphere of friendliness and, as he pointed out, the free food. Zhong, who comes from a small province in southern China, said if he were home, he would have been watching the festivities on television with his family, sort of like watching the New Year’s ball drop in Times Square.

Jessica Tran, a first-year student who is Vietnamese, said multiple generations of her family attend temple on Lunar New Year. She couldn’t spend it with her family, “so the next best thing was to bring my friends,” she said, “to let them experience the culture and enjoy it as much as I do.” Among her friends (all of them first-year students) was Adriana Mendoza who said the celebration reminded her of Mexican culture. “This is the reason I came to college, to meet all cultures, peoples, personalities,” she said. “I’m happy to be here. I’ve learned a lot.” 

Alison Hayashi said her family has been in the United States for several generations and no longer observes Lunar New Year. College is an opportunity, she said, “to start honoring my heritage, honoring who I am. It is really nice that GW does this. It helps people like us feel a sense of community and connect to others who do celebrate.”

Sporting a long red coat, in keeping with the color theme, Nicholas Bird, a junior majoring in international relations with a concentration in Asia, and Japanese language and literature, said he saw a posting for the Lunar New Year celebration on The Vern and caught the Vern Express from the Foggy Bottom Campus with his friend, Cara Mosko who is also a junior.

“I was really impressed by the lion. The blinking eyes that lit up,” he said. “I’m originally from Chicago, and I went to the festival there.”

The Chinese Student Association also hosted an earlier event in the Continental Ballroom in the University Student Center that included lion dancers, tianyi dancing, mahjong and Chinese chess, musical chairs and authentic Chinese food. The evening also included performances by Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese students.