Letter from Campus: Gung Hay Fat Choy

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Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

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February 9 was the first day of the new year. Oh, perhaps not to most people at Notre Dame, some of whom may have spent January 1 recovering from their celebration of the night before. But for the Asian community on campus, it was the Lunar New Year and it was time to celebrate.

“It’s a big deal,” says Xiaoyue Zhang, a graduate student and outgoing president of the Notre Dame Chinese Friendship Association (NDCFA), which, he proudly points out is, “the biggest international club at Notre Dame.”

While here in America we call it Chinese New Year, the Chinese call it the Spring Festival. That’s because, the Internet informed me, “Chinese New Year’s day is on the first day of the first month of the Chinese year. In the Chinese Fortune-Telling Calendar, the first day of the first month is called ‘Start of Spring.’”

OK. All I knew was it was the Year of the Rooster. And on Saturday, February 12, it was party time at the Hesburgh Library auditorium.

The NDCFA throws a big bash. It started with lots and lots of food. “We probably spent $2,000 on food,” Zhang told me. The festival’s sponsors included his group, the International Student Services and Activities department, the Asian American Association, the East Asian Language and Literature department, and the Asian Food Market. They fed, Zhang estimated, 300 to 400 people. No charge to the guests, either, which may in part explain the party’s popularity.

But I’m guessing the festival was popular for another reason. It was, for Notre Dame’s largest group of international students, some 600 students, one event where they could party and be entertained in their own language. For next door to the lounge where the food was available, the 300-seat auditorium was filled, and filled mostly with people speaking Mandarin Chinese. “Especially at spring festival, they miss their family very much,” Zhang said, because a big part of the New Year’s celebration involves special family gatherings. “This helps,” he noted.

The entertainment, a welcome gift for those who might be homesick, was mostly wonderful no matter what language you speak. Festival organizers interspersed clips from the China Central Television’s broadcast of Beijing’s gala New Year’s celebration with live performances. A couple of Notre Dame graduate students stood up and sang. One played the guitar. A special guest, a woman from China, sang opera. I didn’t understand a word of it. I didn’t care, either. It was fun.

The highlight of the taped Lunar New Year’s gala in Beijing was the gorgeous dance of a thousand hands. The lowlight, for me at least, was a loooong comedy skit. Imagine watching a Saturday Night Live skit or a Chris Rock performance if you don’t speak English. Boring.

Sadly, there were no fireworks. But other New Year’s traditions were abundant. Red is a lucky color, and I saw lots of red decorations and lots of party-goers in red. The dessert was orange-flavored cakes, because oranges symbolize good fortune. And the kids at the event were gathered on the stage at one point and given red packets—gifts of good wishes and fortune. The children, a few of whom were adopted from China by Americans, each received $2 in the lucky red envelopes. That’s because good luck comes in pairs.

A lot of luck was floating around that night. A lot of energy and happiness, too. Gung hay fat choy: Happy New Year.

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