Webb celebrates Lunar New Year like never before


Hanbo Xu

In the Hooper Community Center, a crew performed the traditional Chinese dragon dance, surrounded by parents that brought authentic foods to share with the Webb community. Originally, the lion dance and parents were supposed to come together on Monday, however, the organizers of the event combined it with Wednesday community dinner. “We wanted to mesh the volunteerism and celebration [of Lunar New Year] with community dinner,” said Ryan Ho, a member of the International Student Liaisons who planned this event. The event ended up being a cultural experience combined with community dinner and formal dress.

The beating of drums and the clanging of cymbals echoed through the dining hall as students tapped their feet in excitement. Lions danced through the dining hall with comedic energy, bringing the celebratory spirit of Lunar New Year to Webb’s Campus. Last Wednesday, Webb students experienced an unprecedented Lunar New Year event in place of community dinner, which saw enlightening presentations, flavorful foods, and vibrant cultural performances. 

For Webb’s numerous East Asian students, Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays of the year. It celebrates the coming of a new year and a new beginning. People clean their houses, feast with family, light firecrackers, and give out red packets filled with money. However, for many Webbies, this holiday of family and celebration is but a testament to their separation from home.  

To honor the East Asian culture and presence at Webb, Ken Rosenfeld, Dean of Campus Life, John Choi, Director of Equity, and the International Student Liaisons (ISLs) hosted this event to share authentic food and traditional dances with the community. 

“We organized this event as a way to bring the spirit of Lunar New Year to Webb,” said Ryan Ho, a member of ISL. “We worked with the Chinese Culture Club to allow parents to bring food and hired a lion and dragon dance crew.” 

The event began at 6 p.m. with presentations on how different countries and cultures celebrate Lunar New Year. Students from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Korea, and the Philippines shared their family traditions and experiences with the holiday.  

By emphasizing the diversity of Lunar New Year celebrations, the organizers hoped that students could understand that Lunar New Year was not merely a Chinese holiday, but one that people from different countries celebrate in different ways. 

“We made it clear that the holiday and the lunar calendar did originate from China, but it has also changed and spread to different cultures and groups,” said Mr. Choi. “We have at least seven different Asian countries represented at this school, and we are celebrating diversity, so this choice of name reflects that.” 

The name “Lunar New Year” reflects this goal as it is inclusive of those who celebrate it outside of China.  

“On the very first year we celebrated this holiday, I sent out an email calling it ‘Chinese New Year,’” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “A student from Vietnam reached out almost immediately saying that they celebrate it in Vietnam too and calling it Chinese New Year doesn’t recognize those who celebrate it outside of China. After that we switched to calling it ‘Lunar New Year’ and we now do our best to represent cultures that celebrate Lunar New Year outside of China.” 

After listening to the presentations on Lunar New Year traditions, students were greeted with a diverse selection of foods from China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines.  

The dining hall staff served Japanese-style curry, Filipino pork lumpia, Thai green papaya salad, and bok choy with plum sauce, which offered a culinary journey around East Asia. In addition, Mr. Rosenfeld brought mapo tofu, a Sichuanese spicy tofu dish he learned from his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Choi brought tteokbokki, which are Korean rice cakes stir fried in spicy sauce.  

In the Hooper Community Center, parents brought different Chinese foods by the hundreds and arranged a food gallery. The gallery gave students a taste of different authentic foods from China. Tables were dispersed around the space, covered with filled steamed buns called bao, dumplings, sesame balls, and rice cakes. The aroma of the steamed delicacies attracted long lines of students.  

The idea of a food gallery emerged from a group of students and families who reached out to Mr. Choi and proposed to bring in food to help celebrate Lunar New Year.  

“We had previously organized an event for Hispanic Heritage Month where Hispanic parents brought in food and we had a mariachi band perform,” Mr. Choi said, “A couple months ago, a group of students including Hanbo Xu (25’) and Karen Chen (23’) reached out and said that it was really fun, so why don’t we do a similar event again with Lunar New Year? Eventually, Hanbo and his dad reached out to different parents and the event was born.” 

If wearing proper formal clothing or traditional clothing from their culture, each student was given a red packet with 4 tickets inside that could be exchanged for a small portion of food at a specific station. 

Many of the families who shared food hoped to help boarding students feel a bit more at home. 

“Lunar New Year is all about celebration and we thought that we could share some food to hype up the holiday,” said Hanbo Xu (25’), whose parents brought Sweet Bean Bao. “We also thought that many Chinese students at Webb are far away from home, and it would be nice to give them a taste of home.” 

Before students began eating, however, a lion dance troupe and a band playing traditional Chinese drums, performed in the Price Dining Hall and then the Hooper Community Center. 

“We were greeted with a burst, a cacophony of music surrounding our ears,” Philip Park (25’) said. “As the loud music rung across the dining hall, two shadowy figures emerged. They were the lions! They began dancing for us in cool ways including jumping up and down, biting water bottles, and other such comedic actions. The lion dancing was so graceful and beautiful. It’s crazy that two people could coordinate that well. After the event was over, I was thunderstruck.” 

In addition, a dragon dance crew entered hooper and the dining hall. The dragon slithered around on the poles of the performers, who skillfully maneuvered the dragon puppet in a smooth, realistic way. Some members of ISL and people who shared their cultural experiences tried the dragon dance in the Price Dining Hall as well. 

This Lunar New Year was completely unprecedented in its scale and complexity. Webb had never hosted such a large event celebrating Lunar New Year, and its dedication to this holiday represents Webb’s increasing recognition of its diversity. It is now the Year of the Rabbit or the Year of the Cat in Vietnam, a year of hope, and this event brings hope for Webb’s colorful, diverse cultures.   

 Webb celebrates Lunar New Year like never before