The second new moon since the winter solstice on Dec. 21, 2022, came on Jan. 22. This planetary phenomenon marks the beginning of Lunar New Year — one of the most significant celebrations of the year for East and Southeast Asian communities across the globe.

Lunar New Year has been an official part of Virginia Tech campus life since 2020, with collaboration from the Association for Chinese Students and Scholars, Owens Dining Center, the Asian Cultural Engagement Center (ACEC), and the Asian American Student Union.

Although the holiday is often referred to as Chinese New Year, it is celebrated in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and, Vietnam and observed by many people of Asian descent throughout the diaspora.

“Lunar New Year is the more inclusive term for the holiday as it doesn’t single out one culture, considering that the occasion is celebrated by diverse peoples within and outside of Asia,” said Nina Ha, director of the ACEC.

Lunar New Year marks the beginning of spring in Chinese culture, and the nation officially recognizes the holiday as the Spring Festival. This year will be the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese tradition, while in the Vietnamese calendar, 2023 will be the Year of the Cat. There will be multiple events and activities happening across the Blacksburg campus on Jan. 27-28.

Student organizations and Asian diasporic communities have observed Lunar New Year for years in Blacksburg, but there were no universitywide acknowledged initiatives for the occasion until 2020. For the past four years, the ACEC has collaborated with Owens Dining Hall to provide a special menu to celebrate Lunar New Year. “We work with members of Owens to test the recipes, taste all the potential items, and then decide on a specific menu for the celebration,” said Ha.

This year, Owens Food Court will offer a Lunar New Year special menu on Friday, Jan. 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. The seven-item, multicuisine menu will consist of Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese food with vegetarian options. Pho will be served a la carte.

According to Virginia Tech Dining Services, Lunar New Year is one of the busiest events of the year for Owens Food Court. Last year, more than 1,800 “Taste of Lunar New Year” meals were sold along with 500 bowls of pho. This year, Owens Food Court is expecting to sell 2,000 meals between lunch and dinner.

“Each year, we continue to add to our database of recipes and hone the styles, methods, and techniques involved in preparing their dishes faithfully at our dining center. The ACEC also helps greatly in ensuring diverse experiences and offerings to include all of the cultures that celebrate Lunar New Year,” said Gabe Petry, assistant director of Dining Services.

Food is an integral part of Lunar New Year celebrations across cultures, and by providing a special menu for the occasion, Virginia Tech can cater to its diverse student population and provide everyone with a chance to experience the flavors of the holiday.

“Our partnership with Owens to acknowledge Lunar New Year is not only a chance to make visible the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American [APIDA] community within campus, but also provides a venue to celebrate the heterogeneity of the APIDA community at Virginia Tech,” said Ha. “The Lunar New Year celebration creates opportunity for APIDA students to come together and introduce people to a complex and diverse community.”

On Saturday, Jan. 28, there will be multiple events organized by cultural groups and student organizations on campus. In collaboration with the ACEC, the Asian American Student Union, Korean American Student Association, Chinese American Society, Sigma Pi Zeta, and Alpha Kappa Delta Phi are organizing a Lunar New Year celebration at the Graduate Life Center Multipurpose Room from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Association of Chinese Students and Scholars will host an event at Owens Banquet Hall from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The Association of Chinese Students and Scholars has been pioneering the celebration of this cultural holiday for decades with involvement from Chinese students at Virginia Tech as well as the broader Chinese diasporic community within Blacksburg. “We will have over 15 booths [in the banquet hall at Owens Dining Center] with Chinese board games, snacks for Lunar New Year, and free gifts for attendees. There will be a cultural program with participation from Virginia Tech students as well as the Blacksburg Chinese School. The Chaoxic Dance Crew will also be performing,” said Kaixin "Ezio" Shen, the organiztion's president and a senior studying civil and environmental engineering.

Aside from the Lunar New Year celebrations, ACEC’s partnership with Dining Services has expanded into Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month celebrated on campus in April, when Owens Dining Hall will offer an Asian fusion-themed menu.

By highlighting these occasions, as well as organizing community programs, events, and talks to elevate the voices of the APIDA communities, Ha and her team at the ACEC are working hard to ensure that Virginia Tech becomes a more diverse and inclusive space for all. Virginia Tech is only one of three Virginia universities designated as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.  

Bringing holidays such as Lunar New Year into the university calendar, ACEC creates the opportunity for the broader Virginia Tech population to be educated about and experience different APIDA cultures.

The five Cultural and Community Centers, including the ACEC, the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center, the Black Cultural Center, El Centro Hispanic and Latinx Cultural Center, and the LGBTQ + Resource Center provide underrepresented and underserved groups an opportunity to build community and create spaces where they can truly be themselves. In recent years, Virginia Tech has seen record-high numbers of first-year applications from underserved and underrepresented populations. The Cultural and Community Centers are paving the way for a more diverse Hokie Nation of the future.

Written by Aanila Kishwar Tarannum, a master’s student in communication

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