How many students take a class where they are not only fed but also receive money?
That would be Linda Carroll’s class. Carroll, who is originally from Taiwan, says it’s a tradition in the department to do those things once a year.
“On the Chinese New Year, I bring some fried rice, some Chinese good luck candy, and I give each student a little red envelope with a coin inside to bring good luck,” she said.
The lunar calendar uses one of 12 animal names for the year and circles back to the animal every 12 years. This year is the Year of the Rooster.
According to the Chinese Culture Center’s Web site, http://www.c-c-c.org/chineseculture/zodiac/zodiac.html, Chinese legend says that, “The 12 animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: Whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
“All the 12 animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox’s back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second and the pig last.”
Carroll said the Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is basically “for the farmer to know what day is spring, so they can use according to a planting schedule.”
There’s also a religious connection.
“In most areas of China, the people practice Buddhism,” said Liuqin Yang, a graduate student in psychology. “We have a ritual of putting a water lantern on (the) surface of water. It’s made of bamboo, has cloth encompassing it and has a candle in the middle of (the) lantern. Hundreds (of people) go at night and stay beside the river to (make) some wishes for the New Year.”
Yang, who is originally from Fu-Jian, China, said the holiday has several specialized foods for the occasion, including a traditional kind of dumpling that families eat New Year’s Eve to make the family safe in the coming year. Fish are also brought out on the eve but not eaten until the next day, symbolizing something passing from the old year to the new so that they always have an abundance.
“(We) eat. We eat a lot,” Carroll said. “Not turkey but anything else. In New Year’s, they have a specialty called, nian gao, which is a New Year’s cake.”
Carroll said people go home to celebrate with family during that time, and students there would get a month or two off, starting last week.
In fact, Yang and Bo Jiang, a graduate student in chemistry, say the celebration’s spirit is similar to Christmas.
“When I was a kid, my parents would have a big party, get together, cook and eat together then the kids would get gifts from parents and relatives,” Jiang said. “Those are sweet memories. It’s kind of like Christmas but (a) different concept.”
Yang said it means more to children than adults.
“When I was young, we always longed for it because we (would get) brand new clothes. It’s a big festival for children, including all kinds of snacks or other food, and we’d get brand new dressing from top to bottom, including shoes.”
She said her favorite memory was having the joy and anticipation of all the gifts.
Carroll’s favorite memory, however, was with a friend.
“When I was in Taiwan, I was staying at boarding school, and so on the holiday, everybody (was) going home. Since my father was out of town … I went home with one of my classmates, and I had a great time.
“Her whole family was there, and I felt like I was a part of it,” she said. “That was my favorite Chinese New Year.”
At USF, there are 101 international students and even more who celebrate the Chinese New Year. According to Wen-Xiu Ma of the board of directors of the Chinese-American Association of Tampa Bay (CAAT), “All individuals interested in Chinese cultures regardless of nationality are welcome to join (CAAT).”
CAAT is joining with USF’s Chinese Student Union to hold a New Year’s party Saturday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Special Event Center.
Tickets are $5 for students and $12 for nonmembers.
“It’s a big party,” said Jiang. “There will be performances with people wearing traditional clothing and performances and singing.”