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Celebrating Lunar New Year across cultures

BYUH students share their Lunar New Year traditions by collaborating with multiple clubs and inviting students from all cultures to attend

Two people hug in a crowded room.
Members of Mongolia Club hug while participating in a traditional Lunar New Year greeting.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee (TJ)

Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam Clubs shared their Lunar New Year celebrations with BYU–Hawaii students who were both familiar with and new to their cultures on Feb. 10. Although these clubs held three separate celebrations for their individual cultures, they each shared the spirit of the Lunar New Year through traditional food, games and practices.

Crafting a feast together

Maralzaya Buyanbadrakh, the president of the Mongolia Club and a senior majoring in business management from Mongolia, said the Lunar New Year is a time for students to come together as one family and celebrate their cultures and traditions.

She explained that the Lunar New Year in Mongolia is called Tsagaan Sar, or White Moon, which symbolizes purity of intent or whiteness of spirit for the upcoming year.

Club members put extra effort into organizing their Lunar New Year celebrations each year, said Buyanbadrakh, because it is one of the most important holidays in Mongolia. In preparation for this year’s celebration, she said Mongolian students made almost 1,000 buuz, which are Mongolian traditional dumplings the day before the celebration. She explained this was the first time the club made buuz together, as in past years, each married family in the club made them at home and brought them to the event.

“It took us five hours to make 1,000 buuz, and everyone played an important role in making it happen,” she shared. “Some students were in charge of making the dough while some took charge of the filling.”. She said Mongolian buuz are filled with minced lamb or beef flavored with onion, garlic and other seasonal herbs.

During Lunar New Year, Buyanbadrakh said everyone must feast until they are full becaus ethos symbolizes the desire for posterity and abundance in the year ahead. She said preparing lots of food is important to the celebration. “It is not only for your own family but also for visitors. We visit families and friends and have big feasts together to welcome the new year. [We] wish each other to have a prosperous year,” she explained.

Ganzorig Solibat, an alumnus from Mongolia, said it was his last Lunar New Year to celebrate in Hawaii. “Despite being far from home, it is a new and unforgettable experience for all of us as we get together and celebrate our traditional holiday as Mongolians,” he said. Remembering his memories from home, Solibat said, “What made this year’s Mongolian Lunar New Year unique was we made buuz all together, which reminded me of the good old times back in Mongolia.”

Manhattan Prien, a senior majoring in English from Ohio, said she and her husband enjoyed the Mongolian Lunar New Year celebration. She shared, “Some of the club members were kind enough to lend us traditional Mongolian clothing, and it was fun to be able to join with everyone and feel welcomed into the traditions of Mongolian Lunar New Year.” Prien said she especially enjoyed the singing of traditional Mongolian songs and getting to talk with some of her friends from Mongolia.

Landon Prien, a senior majoring in exercise and sports science from Idaho, said the Lunar New Year celebration was a wonderful way to experience a taste of Mongolian culture. “The food, music, games and clothing made for a great way to dip our feet into a culture that's not our own,” he said. He expressed his appreciation for the members of Mongolian Club for being very welcoming and helping them understand some of the important pieces of their culture throughout the celebration.

People wait in line as they place dumplings and other food on their plates.
Mongolia Club members and attendees of the Lunar New Year celebration feast on the 1,000 buuz the club members made.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee (TJ)

Celebrating similarities with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan Club

Yu-Yu Wu, the Taiwan Club president and a sophomore from Taiwan majoring in business management, said their Lunar New Year celebration is like celebrating Christmas because they gather their immediate and extended families together.

Yuxian Gu, the vice president of the China Club and a senior from China majoring in computer science, said despite their cultural differences, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan Club decided to host an event where they could celebrate their similarities. Gu said, “We wanted to have a combined activity to show we are all children of God, and we are a family.” She said non-Chinese students were also welcome to experience their culture.

Nok Ching “Corina” Chan, the Hong Kong Club secretary and a freshman from Hong Kong majoring in psychology, said despite the celebration in Hawaii being different from the Lunar New Year celebrations she has at home, “Friends are another form of family.” Chan said she did miss the traditional food back home and the red envelope called hongbao that they use to wish people luck during the Lunar New Year.

Chan said her favorite part of the event was when they gathered at the Stake Center Cultural Hall and played traditional games in groups. Wu said they had a game where players had to transfer small bits of beans using chopsticks to another container. Chan added it was interesting to see how much other people already knew about Asian culture, especially those from other countries who attended.

Wu said the way the three countries celebrate the Lunar New Year only differs in what they eat and how they cook it. Wu said during the celebration, they greeted each other by saying, “Gong Xi Fa Cai,” which is a wish for someone to be prosperous in wealth.

Wu said another tradition they have is called “Shou-Sui,” where they stay awake until midnight for their parents to live longer. While waiting for midnight, he said they play mahjong and other card games or watch television shows or movies.

A person uses chopsticks to pick up M&Ms on a plate with beans.
China, Hong Kong and Taiwan Club members play a game with chopsticks as a part of their celebration.
Photo by Yui Leung

A cross-cultural Lunar New Year

Malaysia and Vietnam Clubs came together to host their celebration of the Lunar New Year and promoting cross-cultural connections. Abraham Vanimi, a sophomore majoring in computer science from India, expressed his excitement about the event and said, “This is my first time celebrating the Lunar New Year, and it’s interesting to know that the Lunar New Year is not just a Chinese celebration but celebrated in different parts of the world like Malaysia and Vietnam.”

Battsetseg Gansukh, a senior majoring in business management from Mongolia, shared her what she liked best about the celebration. “My favorite part of the event was when the presidency of Malaysia and Vietnam Club did a ceremony called ‘Prosperity Toss’ and blessed all of us with warm wishes. I also loved that we learned to make summer rolls while having fun with friends.”

Jazreel Vergara, a sophomore majoring in accounting from the Philippines, commended the clubs for their thoughtful approach to organizing the event. “Instead of the actual ingredients like seafood, nuts and savory sauce for the ‘Prosperity Toss,’ they used fruits to cater for the taste of international students here, which is a safe option for everyone due to different diets.”

A group of people share a cultural dish together.
Singapore Malaysia and Vietnam Club members share a cultural dish together.
Photo by Ranitea Teihoarii