Discovering Lunar New Year

If you think ringing in the new year means downing a bottle of Tosti with a dozen drunken strangers, think again. January 1 isn't the only day for clean slates, resolutions, and new beginnings. Asian cultures have long celebrated the lunar new year, which coincides with the first new moon of the Western Gregorian calendar. Always occurring in late January or early February, the beginning of the lunar year relates to the twelve-year zodiacal cycle observed in East Asia, in which animals characterize annual units. (2002 is the Year of the Horse.) The cultural roots of lunar new year celebrations are centuries old. As legend has it, villagers in a small Chinese community once faced an evil monster who wreaked havoc on their city. The terrified villagers devised a plan to thwart the creature, hanging red banners outside their homes and igniting firecrackers to ward it off. Their successful scheme banished the demon from the village, and the ensuing revelry became the basis for lunar new year celebrations. Today, Asian cultures sponsor "spring festivals" to mark the transition, and Asian communities around the world organize elaborate events in honor of the new year. At Duke, the Asian Students Association has done much the same, and their massive annual event is only a week away. But if you've enjoyed your campus-flyer vocabulary lesson, you may already know that. The theme of this year's celebration, "Definitions," prompted a creative and educational promotional campaign on East and West campuses. ASA peppered flyers at bus stops and meetings places with dictionary definitions of words like "lubber." (It's a noun meaning "clumsy fellow.") But the underlying concept strikes deeper than SAT brainteasers. "We came up with the theme with the idea that Asians or OAsian-ness' is constantly trying to be defined by Asians and non-Asians alike," said senior and ASA president Jin Park. "This theme is meant to convey that not one definition can encompass what it means to be Asian." ASA's organizational efforts reflect that diversity of perspectives. Dance routines, martial arts performances, and a capella pieces featuring over 150 students form the core of the Lunar New Year ("LNY") presentation. From traditional choreography to contemporary pop vocal stylings, the free event promises an impressive variety of performances. But LNY is more than a night of stimulating entertainment. "Lunar New Year is an opportunity for us to share our culture as well as celebrate our new year with the Duke and Triangle Area communities," said Christina Chang, ASA vice-president of cultural affairs and producer and coordinator of the event. "As LNY encourages self-expression and creativity, we give students a chance to truly utilize their inner creativity as well as giving them another voice on campus." That voice has grown significantly louder since the first LNY celebration in 1992. For eight years, students and community members celebrated LNY in the Bryan Center's Von Canon Hall, which accommodated only 350 guests. In 2000, ASA moved the event to Baldwin Auditorium and hosted LNY's accompanying dinner at the Marketplace. Attendance more than doubled, prompting a move to the event's current venue, Page Auditorium. Friday, March 1, LNY will return to West Campus charged with the same expectations and energy that characterized its considerable growth. Months in the making, the event's preparation rests on the efforts of over 100 ASA committee members, who began their planning in April 2001. "The time and effort put in to this event is just tremendous," Park said. ASA members grapple with promotional campaigns, menu-planning, performance preparation and a host of other technical responsibilities. The dedication and commitment underlying ASA's efforts stem from strong cultural connections. "For the Asian-American community, I think LNY is a symbol of the Asian heritage that our parents have passed down to us and one way of preserving that heritage as well as sharing it with our peers," Chang said. Ultimately, Park hopes the sharing process will stimulate the campus as a whole. "[LNY] is [the Duke community's] chance to experience the culture and traditions foreign to them," she said. "But at the same time, they are able to see just how similar we are. After all, the Asian-American culture is a part of the American culture."


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