Guilford’s Lunar New Year celebration lights up the night


Diyaa Kaufman

Lunar New Year, Year of the Ox

The Guilford community came together to celebrate the first day of Lunar New Year on Friday, Feb. 12. This year is the Year of the Ox, the second animal zodiac in the lunar calendar observed by many Asian countries. Hosted by the International Studies department and the International Club, the celebration featured an array of guest speakers and cultural presentations to not only get people in the spirit of the holiday, but also to explain the cultural significance of Lunar New Year. 

Although the event was held online to comply with COVID-19 regulations, speakers from the Guilford community brought life and energy into the online celebration.  

Eric Mortenson, professor of religious studies, gave a presentation about the lunar calendar while his son, Søren, recited a poem about a snowman in Mandarin. History professor Zhihong Chen provided a brief history of the Lunar New Year and covered its significance before introducing the next guest speaker, professor of Japanese language Hiroko Hirakawa, who spoke about the Japanese tradition of setsubun associated with the Lunar New Year. 

George Guo, professor of political science, demonstrated Chinese calligraphy, writing both “Year of the Ox” and a short poem in the elegant style. Senior and president of International Club Nyima Lama described Lunar New Year celebrations called Losar, celebrated in Nepal and Tibet. Timothy Kircher, the department chair of international studies, ended the night by leading the attendees in a short demonstration of tai chi.

Sue Chen, renowned musician and professor at a multitude of schools including High Point University, John Hopkins University, Greensboro Day School and Chinese Heritage School, joined to help celebrate the Lunar New Year. She showed examples of traditional Chinese string instruments, including the Chinese zither and the Chinese dulcimer, and ended her session with a live performance on a woodwind instrument.

The celebration was so invigorating and engaging that the event ended up running 30 minutes over time to ensure that every speaker had enough time to cover their subject. Most of the attendees stayed over time, enraptured by the rich culture and history of Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year is a celebration of the New Year on the lunisolar calendar, marked by the first new moon, which typically falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. A lunisolar calendar has months dependent on the moon cycle, where each new moon marks a new month. The years, however, are solar, marked by the Earth’s 365-day rotation around the sun. Lunar New Year is celebrated in many Asian countries, including China, Nepal, Tibet, Singapore and Indonesia.

While there are various traditions surrounding the celebration of the Lunar New Year, they are all centered around the themes of happiness, fortune and health. Lunar New Year is meant to chase away all of the bad fortune from the previous year and welcome in good fortune for the new year. The celebration is typically a time for friends and family to get together and revel in the possibilities and luck the new year could bring.

The wide array of speakers and topics aligned exactly with what main organizer Timothy Kircher planned. Kircher, along with other faculty, staff and students on campus, planned this event with hopes of attendees gaining a greater sense of community, and a sense of new beginnings backed by traditions of many cultures. Especially since Guilford did not hold a Lunar New Year celebration in 2020 due to COVID-19, Kircher thought it was important that the Guilford community had a chance to celebrate in 2021. 

Despite COVID-19 restrictions forcing the celebration to be fully virtual, Kircher’s goals were still clearly met. The celebration exposed attendees to many cultural traditions and lessons on the significance of Lunar New Year for many countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. 

Kircher expressed his delight at the learning and engagement that occurred during the celebration. “This is a celebration of (diversity) and cultural awareness,” he stated.

Kircher’s sentiments were echoed by Diyaa Kaufman, treasurer of the International Club. 

“I hope that (the attendees will) appreciate the exposure (to new cultures) and another way to come together as a community at a time where everyone is so isolated,” Kaufman commented. “Learning something new is always a bonus.” 

Similarly to how many countries use Lunar New Year as a time to come together as family and friends, Kaufman believed that a Lunar New Year celebration could help the Guilford College community come together during the pandemic and reaffirm wishes for good luck and better fortune.