In the days leading up to Tuesday, February 5, you may have noticed red paper banners bearing messages written in Chinese characters pop up at the library entrance and outside of classrooms. Hand-crafted by members of Derryfield’s cohort of international students, each message heralded the Chinese New Year, marking the transition from the Year of the Dog to the Year of the Pig.
Sam Duan ‘20 of Nanjing, China oversaw much of the celebrations at school. While China now operates on the Gregorian calendar, he emphasizes the deep cultural roots of the holiday, especially how “wherever one is, he/she is always supposed to celebrate the day with his/her family.” Much like the prolonged Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season in America, “the celebrations go on for around a week to two weeks, during which a lot of the businesses shut down.” In Sam’s hometown, only firework shops remain open during the stretch, but in cities, the hustle-and-bustle of life often continues.
Contrary to what you may believe, Sam points out that “we do celebrate the New Year's Day on January 1st as well, but the January 1st New Year's Day is a bit more commercialized and a bit more westernised.” The Chinese New Year offers the opportunity to express “hopes and dreams for the new year,” conveyed at Derryfield through the classroom decorations.
When he arrived at Derryfield his freshman year, Sam was disappointed by the lack of appreciation for the magnitude and importance of this “massive” holiday. Combined with the absence of authentic Chinese food in the region, he says that “I figured it would be more fun if there is more recognition and more people actually participating in the festivities.” This year, in addition to the classroom banners, these festivities included the popular tradition of all-day dumpling crafting, an activity enjoyed by everyone from Middle School students to faculty.
Sam was aided in his efforts by Upper School history teacher Ms. DiTullio, who sees the observation of the New Year not only as a way to “help make things at Derryfield feel a bit more like home” for the international students, but also “to introduce another culture's customs to our American students!” Like Sam, she highlights the scale of the holiday as “the whole country shuts down for a week or more.” Furthermore, unlike American celebrations, “if you are older, you don't have to leave your home because everyone has to come to visit you.”
Despite its name, the Chinese New Year (also referred to as the Lunar New Year) is not strictly a Chinese holiday. Nam Vo ‘20 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, shares that “Lunar New Year, which us Vietnamese usually call ‘Tet,’ is probably the biggest holiday ever in our country. It is when every family member can temporarily forget their problems outside of the house, to focus more on internal affairs.” The extended time off allows distant relatives to reconnect and children often amass “lucky” money from their doting family members. Nam admits that “while I can't celebrate Tet with my family, I have my friends and the whole Derryfield community in general to share happiness with, which is great!”