The creation of home from beyond the seas: How Chinese students spend their Spring Festival at UCLA

by Dorothy Guo

The Spring Festival is the grandest, most well-known traditional holiday in China. It is the one time in a year when family members usually gather together, have a big dinner, watch the nationwide streaming of the CCTV New Year Gala and enjoy the happiness of being united. According to the lunar calendar, the Lunar New Year will take place on Feb. 10 this year. However, most Chinese students at UCLA will not be fortunate enough to celebrate their most respected festival in their native country due to their academic responsibilities as international students in America. How will they enjoy their traditional holiday in a foreign country? How can they create a sense of home from a place thousands of miles away from their motherland?

Sophia Wang, a first-year cognitive science student, shares her experience of celebrating the Spring Festival without being together with her family members for the first time in her life. “My parents have taken me to travel abroad during Spring Festivals spent in the past,” she remembered, “but (this is) definitely the first time that I’m celebrating the New Year without my parents.” Although she feels sad about not being able to accompany her family members because of the lack of a break in the quarter, she claims that she does not feel lonely because she will spend the holiday with her friends’ party and participate as one of the masters of ceremonies in the Chinese Lantern Festival Gala organized by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, or CSSA, the biggest Chinese student organization on campus. The gala took place on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in Royce Hall.

Sandra Zhou, a second-year mathematics/applied science student, is also a part of CSSA’s Chinese Lantern Festival Gala. Having celebrated the Spring Festival in America once in her first year, she still senses nuanced differences between spending the holidays in China and in America. “In China, I mostly spent the Spring Festival’s eve with my family members at home. We might watch the CCTV’s New Year’s Gala and wait for the countdown together, and if we go out, everywhere is decorated in red and filled with cheerful Chinese music,” said Zhou. “But in America, the people I stay with are mostly friends instead of family members. I also see a lot of different ways for people to celebrate the Spring Festival in their own traditions — a lot of activities are hosted by different organizations and clubs here at UCLA.”

This year, both Wang and Zhou chose to spend their once-a-year New Year’s Eve at CSSA’s gala. While Wang participated in the gala because of her passion for being a master of ceremonies and her willingness to get involved in the vibrant Chinese student community on campus, Zhou, who is a part of the Chinese Cultural Dance Club at UCLA and performed a traditional Chinese dance in the gala, believed that the gala would be a good way to represent Chinese culture to others. “This stage will be an excellent platform to showcase the beauty of Chinese dance and invite more people to understand and appreciate it,” Zhou said. “I believe I will have a very happy and fulfilling Spring Festival this year. … My mom and dad are visiting me from China this week, so they will watch my solo performance and other wonderful performances at the gala tomorrow.” Earnestly looking forward to both spreading Chinese culture through traditional dance in the gala and reuniting with her family, Zhou’s experience with celebrating the Spring Festival in America has filled her with joy.

Apart from Zhou’s traditional dance, Wang introduced more interesting performances that would be carried on stage in CSSA’s Chinese Lantern Festival Gala. The gala featured a diverse variety of Chinese students, Chinese organizations out in Los Angeles, as well as some celebrities. “There is going to be a children’s choir from West Los Angeles,” she specified, “and excitingly, we have invited guest singers like Sunkis and PO8, who are both very famous Chinese singers.” The gala, for her, is more about the show itself more than anything else. It is a tradition that she believes can bring Chinese people overseas together and is something that every Chinese person should hold on to.

As the gala invited audiences not just limited to Chinese international students but also the wider campus, both Wang and Zhou feel that the gala’s meaning can transcend beyond merely a form of celebration and entertainment, specifically considering how there are also Chinese Americans and students from other countries watching the show. “Our gala will have several traditional performances, like the traditional dance and traditional music showcases,” explained Wang. “It is a good way for Chinese American students to get to know more about the traditional Chinese culture and to establish connections with other Chinese students.” Similarly, Zhou also expressed how she thinks about the multidimensional meaning of hosting the gala on an American campus. “I think it gives us an opportunity to get together with our loved ones, relax ourselves from our school and work, ” she said. “For our Chinese community, especially for those who feel homesick, the gala connects us to our own traditions, to each other and to our family members, whether they are in LA or not; for all the other students from different cultural backgrounds who might be interested in Chinese culture, I think the gala is also an excellent way to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and appreciate its beauty.”

Celebrating a traditional holiday in a foreign country may not seem to be as easy and as fulfilling as celebrating in one’s home country. However, both Wang and Zhou have planned to spend their Spring Festivals meaningfully and joyfully, particularly through bonding with fellow Chinese students on the UCLA campus at CSSA’s gala. Although the specific traditions of the Spring Festival may not be able to be carried out in the environment of an American university, the underlying themes and values can be maintained wherever the Chinese students are: unity, harmony and the sense of home.

Featured Image via Adobe Stock

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