Lunar New Year celebration set to welcome the year of the Ox

With the month of January almost in the books, many believe the year of 2009 has been well under way. But, for those who follow the lunar calendar, the New Year just started this past Monday.

In honor of the Lunar New Year, Project A.I.M. (Asian-student Involvement and Mentoring), the Office of Student Life and other campus organizations are hosting a Lunar New Year Celebration on Friday, Jan. 30 beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The Lunar New Year, sometimes referred to as Chinese New Year, is one of the most important holidays in Asian culture.

Monday ushered in the year of the Ox, the second sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which symbolizes strength, prosperity and hard work.

“We have a lot of Asian students here on campus who have family outside the United States and Lunar New Year is always during the school year, so these students usually spend this time away from their loved ones,” said Rosa Yen, associate director of Leadership Development and Multicultural Affairs.

“This is a good chance for these students to get a little taste of home, for all members of the St. John’s Asian community to get together, as well as for people of other cultures to be exposed to and embrace Asian culture.”

The fourth annual celebration begins with a New Year mass in St. Thomas More Church at 5:30 p.m. which is intended to give students good luck.

“We’ve always had a mass before dinner,” said Yen. “This is for anyone, regardless of race, religion or culture, to receive blessings for the New Year.”

Following mass, a Lunar New Year dinner will be held in Marillac Cafeteria at 7 p.m. featuring various Asian cuisines from China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan.

Along with the dinner, students will learn more about the Chinese Zodiac and be able to find their sign as well as engage in other aspects of Lunar New Year traditions.
Despite a slow start, Yen said, the annual Lunar New Year celebration at St. John’s has become quite popular.

“This has become a very popular event in the last couple of years,” said Yen. “I remember the first year we only had about 50 people and the majority of them were Asian,” she said. “But over the next few years, people have been bringing more and more of their friends and telling other people about it.

“Last year we had over 200 people attend the dinner and I would say 30 percent of them were non-Asian. I’m sure the number will continue to grow this year.”

Yen also said she has extended invitations to St. John’s students of the Manhattan and Staten Island campuses as well as alumni.

“Usually the event is open to current students, but this year, we decided to also have past students return for this occasion,” said Yen. “This is just a good chance to bring everyone together and celebrate.”

Father Tri Duong, a campus minister and one of the priest who will be delivering blessings at the mass, said the yearly observance of the event at St. John’s is especially important for students who have roots in Asian culture.

“It has a big impact on our Asian students and it allows them to continue to know and remember who they are,” said Duong, who is Vietnamese. “For me, this celebration has always brought me back to who I am.”

Some students say they are excited to ring in the New Year again.

“I am so looking forward to celebrating the Chinese New Year, even though I can’t spend time with my family,” said junior Kun Song. “However, under the help of Ms. Rosa Yen and Project A.I.M., I strongly feel that St. John’s is my second home.”