Hundreds in the Penn community are celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with Lunar New Year celebrations.
This past weekend, the Penn Museum hosted its annual CultureFest! Lunar New Year on Saturday. Various student groups and other campus organizations also have plans to celebrate the holiday, but some students expressed concerns that the University is not doing enough to acknowledge it.
Lunar New Year is an important holiday in several Asian countries that is often celebrated for multiple days or weeks. This year, Lunar New Year occurred on Jan. 22, but celebrations at Penn will continue throughout the coming weeks.
Penn Museum partnered with the American Chinese Museum to put on the CultureFest! event, described as a “family-friendly festival designed for everyone to learn more about diverse cultural traditions,” according to NBC Philadelphia.
Though CultureFest! has been an annual event since 1981, Jennifer Brehm — the Merle-Smith Director of Learning and Community Engagement at the Penn Museum — said that collaborating with the American Chinese Museum this year allowed for a more authentic celebration of the holiday.
“It’s part of our initiative to make sure the kind of programming we offer is community-centered,” Brehm said. “It’s really a great opportunity to be able to partner with [the American Chinese Museum] and talk to them about what’s important about the celebration.”
During the event, representatives from the American Chinese Museum sold traditional New Year’s goods, helped families with paper cutting and lantern making, and read stories about the Lunar New Year.
“We want this event to not only be a cultural celebration but also to introduce other cultures,” Executive Director of the American Chinese Museum Li Edwards said. “We want to appeal to people with Asian backgrounds and also to people who don’t have any knowledge about Lunar New Year.”
The celebration is one of Penn Museum’s most popular events, drawing a large crowd — including Penn students — every year.
Many student organizations are also set to host various Lunar New Year festivities on campus. In particular, Penn’s Chinese Student Association annually organizes one of the largest celebrations on campus.
Their event is scheduled for Jan. 29 in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge and is being hosted in collaboration with other Asian cultural groups, such as the Hong Kong Student Association, Penn Taiwanese Society, the Vietnamese Student Association, and the Asian Pacific Student Coalition.
“Given that a lot of students are not able to go home to celebrate the Lunar New Year traditionally, we really want to foster this collective feeling of togetherness,” College junior and CSA President Shannon Zheng said.
However, some students expressed concerns about how the holiday is observed on campus. CSA members voiced appreciation for the University’s support in securing funding and a venue for the event, but also expressed a desire for more acknowledgment from the University regarding the holiday.
“Traditionally, student groups have been responsible for initiating the idea for and planning these festivities,” Zheng said.
Beyond the CSA event, the Pan-Asian American Community House — which recently hired two new associate directors — is hosting Jason Lee, the founder and CEO of Jubilee Media, who is set to speak at "Be Seen Be Heard: Lunar New Year at Penn" on Jan. 24. Lee will speak about media that breaks down stereotypes, and a night market and performances will follow the talk.
In addition to Penn Museum and student groups, some residential houses and dining halls host their own events. College Houses, such as Harnwell and Lauder, hosted dinners for residents featuring music and traditions like red envelope exchanges, and Hill College House hosted a trip to Chinatown for students. Penn Dining also has events planned with Penn Lions performances and a visit from the owner of Kampar Kitchen, Ange Branca, to Hill House.
Zheng told the DP that one streamlined, all-encompassing University celebration might better cultivate community on the holiday.
“It would be really meaningful if the University could plan a Penn-wide event in the future,” Zheng said.
College junior and CSA Co-Vice President Isabella Song pointed to a decision made by the Philadelphia Public School District last year to close schools for Lunar New Year for the first time as an example of doing more to acknowledge the holiday.
“Especially since Penn has a large Asian community, students would feel less burdened traveling to see their family or celebrating with friends if a similar decision was made at Penn to give off on the Lunar New Year when it coincides with class days,” she said.
Students also said that they want the Lunar New Year celebrations to be open to the entire student body as a way to highlight their culture and values.
“More recognition for the holiday is so important because we want our festivities to be impactful for all students, not just those who traditionally celebrate the Lunar New Year,” College sophomore and CSA Co-Vice President Melanie Chen said. “We want an opportunity to better show community members of all backgrounds to come and educate themselves on what our culture is about.”