Chinese New Year Begins a Year of Celebration


Serena Young

(Above, from left to right) Kate Ward, grade 9, Grace Wright, grade 9, Tynan Tracy, grade 9, Wali Hasan, grade 9, and Sophia Carraway, grade 10, perform and enjoy the Chinese dragon dance. The dragon dance was performed by LHP’s Chinese I and II classes in front of the Calkins Library, requiring students to build teamwork in order to learn how to walk together gracefully. The dragon dance is both a showcase of unification and power.

Serena Young, Freelance Writer

The last time I wore this QiPao was at my cousin’s wedding. I wore it again at Lake Highland Preparatory School for another important occasion: Chinese New Year celebration — the Year of the Tiger. Chinese New Year runs on the lunar calendar, making the first day of the year land on February 1, 2022. While my cousin in China got a full two weeks off school, I was able to share this holiday with other students and my family.

Earlier in the day, students were privileged to watch traditional Chinese performances MC’d by students taking Chinese class Sofia Minutoli, grade 11, and Ronin Ford, grade 12. The Tibetan dance and a Chinese folk song were performed by award-winning dancer Xiaoyu Tang and award-winning singer Lilian Guo, along with students Avery Peterson, grade 9, and Ashley Robinson, grade 9, singing as a trio. Fellow student Tammy Yang’s, grade 10, father, Mr. Jiufeng Wei, awed the students with his Chinese traditional acrobatics, spinning a forty-pound clay pot on his head as the finale. Isabella Delbakhsh, grade 10, shared, “I got to learn more about Chinese culture through their performances. I didn’t realize how big this celebration was until now.” 

I followed the students to the Calkins Library, where the celebration took place. Red couplets framed the doors, wishing whoever walked through the entrance a year full of luck and wealth. Inside, I was greeted by a palette of the lucky color red. Chinese lanterns swayed from above, paper flowers bloomed on arranged branches, and red packets filled with treats framed an altar of tangerines. Students surrounded the red packet table, digging for goodies which included individually packaged milk tea-flavored mochi, hard peach candies, and green tea choco rolls. The room was set afloat with flutes of Chinese music while a student started singing a Karaoke Chinese song. An audience gathered below the balcony, their heads tilted up in excitement, as Chinese students lined up the stairs for their turn.

Mrs. Beryl Zhang, LHP’s Chinese teacher credited with organizing this celebration, shared the significance of Chinese New Year. “It’s a time when the biggest enemies can become friends and express best wishes to each other; a new start  —   it’s about togetherness. It’s the only major holiday when coming home is required,” she explained. 

In addition to all of Mrs. Zhang’s students, members of the Chinese Club also helped decorate and run the event. The Co-President of the Chinese Club, Elle Dafnis, grade 11, shared why this holiday is special to her. She noted, “It’s incredible how it brings everyone together. There’s so much positivity, and everyone is so tight-knit.”

There was an array of different games and activities to play. Paper cutting, origami, calligraphy, and chopstick competition stations provided a perfect opportunity to learn about this holiday’s culture and history. When asked how long they thought Chinese New Year had been celebrated, students guessed from 500 to 2,500 years. They were shocked to learn the answer of 3,500 years. 

Changing out of my QiPao after school, I drove home to find my dad making stuffing for dumplings and my mom flouring the board. Dumplings symbolize luck and unity since they are round and full of goodness. There were a few dates, peanuts, and clean pennies which we secretly tucked into the stuffing of our dumplings, representing a year of sweetness, fertility, and money, respectively. After boiling the dumplings, we ate while delicious steam clouded our faces. “Ah! I bit into something hard; it’s the penny!” I yelled in triumph. 

We stuffed ourselves with as many dumplings as we could, racing to see who could bite into the most specially stuffed dumplings. The rest of the dinner table was crowded with whole fish, shrimp, braised pork, taro, soy eggs, steamed buns, NianGao (rice cake), and candied hawthorn sticks. After dinner, my brother and I knelt on our knees to kowtow, or bow,  to our parents, thanking them for taking care of us. My parents handed us each a red packet, filled with money. Laughter rang around the room. 

We rushed onto WeChat — China’s penultimate communication and social media app — and prepared for QiangHongBao — a race to click on the digital red packet to accept money. 

“Ah! Grandpa sent one!” I yelled and stabbed my finger at the screen to tap it open. Confetti filled my screen as 22.22¥, the equivalent of $3.49, came into my account. “Two shares left,” the screen announced, and they were quickly snatched up by my cousin and aunt in China. My dad sent out a share of 188.88¥, or $29.69, and my cousin got it first. Then my aunt teased us with five shares of 6.66¥, about $1.05! The numbers play a significant role with the twos representing the current year and lucky numbers eight and six sounding like the Chinese words for rich and to flow. We played well into the night, stopping only to watch the Chinese New Year Gala screen shared onto the television.

I looked at my family around me and thought of the family I had an ocean away. I can’t wait until we reunite face to face. Chinese New Year is a time for togetherness and good fortune. It sets the tone for the new year to come. 

(Above, from left to right) Teacher for Chinese I & II: Ms. Qiuyan Wang, opera singer: Lilian Guo, teacher for Chinese II Honors – AP: Mrs. Beryl Zhang, acrobat: Mr. Jiufeng Wei, and award-winning dancer: Xiaoyu Tang, gathered in the decorated Calkins Library. They were contacted through the Orlando Chinese Professionals Association (OCPA) by LHP’s Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) initiative, formed to promote different cultures at LHP. LHP and OCPA have a longstanding partnership with LHP students volunteering at their annual Spring Festival every year.
(Serena Young)
(Above) Red packets, filled with Chinese candies and mock twenty-dollar bills, fill up the center table in the Calkins Library. By the time classes started, not a single packet was left, as they were all snatched up by eager students. The packets, decorated with the Year of the Tiger, symbolize the good future and sweetness coming in the new year. (Serena Young)
(Right) Mr. Jiufeng Wei, father of student Tammy Yang, grade 10, performed a traditional Chinese acrobatic performance. Wei balanced and threw two different clay pots, catching them on his neck, head, and shoulders, one weighing 15 pounds and the other 40 pounds.“ He studied at the Hebei Wuquiao Art School. It was over eight hours of practice everyday for nine years,” Tammy shared. Hebei is known as the hometown for Chinese acrobatics and martial arts. (Serena Young)
(At left, from left to right) Anh Le, grade 11, Miya Okuda, grade 11, and Tina Zhang, grade 11, write with bamboo brushes dipped in water for calligraphy. The specially-designed calligraphy paper darkens when in contact with water, creating beautiful strokes that mimic the traditional black ink. They each wear traditional outfits from Vietnam, Korea, and China, respectively. (Serena Young)
(At right, from left to right) Students Avery Peterson, grade 9, Ashley Robinson, grade 9, and winner of the 2018 New York opera competition, Lilian Guo, sang “Jasmine Flower,” a famous Chinese folk song. The song was composed in the Qing Dynasty (1616 AD) and tells of the love for beauty of nature. The tune has gained world renown since being performed in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, dueted by Celion Dion and promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (Serena Young)