February may be the shortest month of the year, but it encompasses an assortment of culturally significant holidays and events, including Lunar New Year and Black History Month. Lunar New Year is a festival celebrated by China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and other Asian countries that marks the first new moon of the lunar calendar, characterized by the color red, glutinous treats, and firecrackers. UMAHS students Ashley Nguyen, Carissa Yu, and Jasmine He were approached for comment on their own New Year traditions. It seems to be a universal practice to reach out to family in order to wish them well, whether it be an in-person visit or, like Carissa, a call to overseas relatives. Preparing special food and having a big meal is also a common tradition. Some dishes have symbolic meanings, such as noodles for longevity and egg rolls and dumplings for wealth; other dishes include hotpot, rice cakes, and various meat dishes based around pork, fish, and chicken. Ashley noted that her favorite part of the holiday is eating niangao, a popular New Year’s dessert made from glutinous rice flour considered to bring good luck. Red envelopes are also thought of as lucky, with the red color supposed to ward off bad spirits, although colors such as white, green, and purple have also been used. These envelopes contain money and are typically given to the younger generation by their elders as gifts, but in some cases, as in Jasmine’s, they are equally exchanged among all parties as a gesture of politeness. Other traditions include watching dragon dances and firecrackers, cleaning the house of dust and bad luck, decorating with banners and flowers, and attending religious functions. With the New Year comes a fresh start, which will hopefully prove to be full of fortune and success. This February 12 welcomes the Year of the Ox.
Also celebrated during February is Black History Month, an annual observance that honors African-American achievements and their role in history. It has its roots in “Negro History Week,” created by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to educate about and thus recognize influential Black individuals. Student Nahum Elias stated that he celebrates by “[supporting] black-owned businesses and [celebrating] the history of African Americans in the [United States].” When asked to go into depth, he added, “…Black History Month [is] a time to honor the African-Americans that came before us and helped the world [become] more equal for all. We use this time by celebrating our culture and supporting other black people in their successes.” He also remarked that while he does not celebrate Lunar New Year, he enjoys “seeing those who [do] put up decorations and celebrate the holiday with their family traditions.”