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Celebrating Chinese New Year 2020 on Campus

campus life

Celebrate the Lunar New Year on campus this year with food, celebrations, and friends.

A woman wearing a red traditional cheongsam dress presenting a lucky red envelope to the camera.

Chinese New Year 2020 is on January 25, and universities and colleges across the United States are busy packing red envelopes, planning galas, and preparing for the Year of the Rat. Also known as Lunar New Year and the beginning of the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally begin on New Year’s Eve for the lunar calendar (January 24) and continue until February 8, when a Lantern Festival marks the end of the party. 

Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival because it celebrates the turning point from winter to spring, based on the traditional Chinese calendar. Despite the cold weather and the short days, the Spring Festival is a time for fresh starts and preparation for a prosperous year to come. 

For many Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean students, as well as those from other neighboring countries and cultures, Lunar New Year is a special time to spend with family. But do not worry if you cannot fly home from your US university before the Lantern Festival: American colleges and universities value cultural diversity, and many will have a Chinese New Year 2020 celebration right on campus. 

“Celebrating away from home makes me feel even more proud of our home country and wanting to keep the traditions, no matter where I am in the world,” said Yi Wang, a master’s candidate from Auburn University who organizes cultural exchange activities between students from different countries. 

From Chunwan viewing parties to local celebrations honoring traditional dance, song, and food, US college campuses–large and small–hold Chinese New Year parades and Lunar New Year events. These festivities are a great way to make new friends while honoring old traditions. Many international students say these celebrations help keep them from feeling homesick on this family-oriented holiday. 

Here are some Chinese New Year 2020 on-campus festivities planned by Shorelight partner universities to celebrate the Year of the Rat. 

How do US colleges and universities celebrate Chinese New Year on campus? 

Auburn University

Each year, the Auburn Global team partners with on-campus student organizations, including the Auburn Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), to host a multi-day program of Spring Festival events. There are dance and musical performances, calligraphy lessons, and a delicious all-you-can-eat noodle bar. 

“The Chinese association offers more than 500 tickets every year, and it is always sold out way before the date,” said Wang. “The local people are so friendly here. They love to learn Chinese culture and also love to share their culture with you!”

The team at Auburn also hands out red envelopes with chocolate coins. The red envelope is a traditional gift of money wrapped in red paper for the New Year. The color red symbolizes wishes of good fortune and happiness and comes from a tradition of warding off bad energies or evil spirits. 

In my first year, I was not used to having no way to reunite with my family [during Chinese New Year], and I worried I’d feel a certain sense of loss. But here, there are many friends to [be] with you, just like family.” – Jessica, Auburn University

Festivities at Auburn for Chinese New Year 2020 include a special ballroom gala with performances and dinner. 

University of South Carolina

At the University of South Carolina, the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars will be hosting the Chinese New Year 2020 festivities on campus, which will feature food from Chinese restaurants, student performances, and fun cultural exchange activities. Usually 200 to 300 students attend the celebration and even more are expected this year.

According to Weiqing Bi, a Chinese international student studying at South Carolina, the gala is a great way to meet new friends and promote Chinese culture. But it is also a great opportunity for Chinese international students to feel connected during a time they usually spend with family. “This is the third spring festival I have experienced,” said Weiqing. “It is a great way to say, ‘Don't worry, you are never alone, no matter where you go, there will be lots of Chinese friends with you.’” 

University of Dayton, University of Central Florida, and University of Kansas

The Shorelight Global teams, in collaboration with student associations, host Lunar New Year parties on many other university campuses, too, including the University of Dayton, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Kansas. Hundreds of students gather at each school to celebrate with authentic food, festive decorations, and activities such as calligraphy lessons, traditional music performances, and Chinese knotting lessons

Additionally, many universities and colleges in the US order takeout from local restaurants and provide holiday-themed treats. Some years, there are even dumpling-making lessons. Dumplings are a Northern Chinese tradition for both New Year’s Eve (sometimes eaten at midnight) and New Year’s morning breakfast. In Southern China, people eat spring rolls and tangyuan, a soup made with glutinous rice balls, to celebrate. Hot pot is another popular Spring Festival food. 

Decorations for the Chinese New Year 2020 celebrations on campus include posters with wishes of good fortune written in Chinese characters, decorative lanterns, and colorful streamers, all in red. Lanterns are lit on the last night of Lunar New Year, which is also considered the Valentine’s Day of China. The last night of Lunar New Year is a joyous celebration of freedom and family, and many colleges across the United States are happy to join the party. 

New Lunar New Year traditions, right on campus 

While international students studying in the United States may not make it home for an annual reunion dinner with family, some colleges try to bring home to campus. For Auburn’s Chinese New Year 2020 party, for example, computers are set up so students can video call their family and share a moment of celebration with loved ones back home. Many other colleges and universities host meals, give out gifts, and stage performances. 

The Lunar New Year is a great opportunity to bring students from different cultures together to build new friendships and start new traditions. 

“Last year ... I invited many of my [friends], including those from the United States, South Africa, and Asia. Some of them didn't know anything about Chinese New Year. Still, through a series of activities, they all felt the charm of Chinese New Year and understood some Chinese culture,” said Jessica, a Chinese international student at Auburn. “It's amazing how different cultures come together.”

What you need to know for Chinese New Year 2020 

What is Chinese New Year: Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in China and many neighboring Asian countries, where it is often referred to as the Lunar New Year. A celebration of the new year based on the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival is a time for new beginnings and also to honor ancestors and deities. 

When is Chinese New Year 2020: January 24 (New Year’s Eve) through February 8 (Lantern Festival) 2020. 

Chinese New Year Greetings: Xin nian kuai le (Happy new year)!

The Year of the Rat Facts: The rat is the first Chinese Zodiac symbol and represents prosperity, vitality, and intelligence. Rats are associated with growing families, and, historically, couples wishing to have children would pray to them. 

Chinese New Year Traditions: Handing out red envelopes filled with money to children; hanging red-colored decorations and lanterns; shooting off firecrackers; participating in festive performances celebrating Chinese culture; watching the annual Chinese Central Television’s New Year Gala; cooking and eating dumplings, spring rolls, and tangyuan soup; spending time with family. 

Shorelight Campus Transition Services can help make college life easier for international students studying in the USA. Learn more >