On January 22 students rang in the Lunar New Year, the joyful Asian holiday observed by more than a billion people around the world. But perhaps the most memorable part of Brewster’s celebration happened two nights later in Estabrook Dining Hall.
Revelers mark Lunar New Year with family reunions and special customs that vary across the Asian countries that celebrate the holiday, but one aspect remains the same: special meals with loved ones. For the second year in a row, students who would normally be with their families for Lunar New Year feasts worked together to share their favorite dishes with the campus community. With the help of Director of Dining Services Dan Corey and Director of International Programs Jason Wang, these students prepared dishes on Sunday and Monday, and served them to their classmates at Tuesday night’s meal in Esta.
“It’s really nice to share my culture with others,” says Kellye Nguyen ’23, who made Vietnamese Tomato-Braised Tofu.
Hannah Yang ’23, who made dumplings among other dishes, said, “I love being able to do this. It’s a lot of work, but I hope this tradition continues. I hope that everyone enjoys the food, because it represents a significant part of our culture.” Frank Wang ’23 and Jerry Zhu ’24 made Xi Hong Shi Chan Ji Dan, a stir fry of eggs and tomatoes. Representing Korea, Jun Sang Oh ’24 and Anna Jo ’25 prepared Korean Pancakes and Korean BBQ Pork Belly. And Thai Scholars Pojchara (Petch) Ounjaroen Pounjaroen ’23 and Phatthanon (Fight) Pattanakanvijit ’23 prepared the classic Thai dish Pad Ka Prao made with pork or beef. Brewster’s Dining Services also provided favorites including General Tso's Chicken, Jasmine Rice, Crab Rangoon, and Bok Choy with Snow Peas.
The flavors showcased the rich variety of Asian cultures that celebrate the holiday, and the rich diversity we are so lucky to have at Brewster. Speaking of luck, Mr. Wang arranged for diners to receive traditional red envelopes (called hóngbāo) with a crisp Chinese bill inside, a long-held Lunar New Year tradition. The gift and the envelope itself symbolizes good luck, happy wishes, and prosperity for the year ahead.
Archer McClain ’23 sampled the authentic meal and applauded his classmates’ culinary skills: “I loved trying the cuisine from various countries, they are all such good chefs!” Kayla Holz ’23 agreed, saying, “The food was delicious, and I enjoyed seeing my peers enjoy all the different kinds of meals as a community.”
During the Tuesday dinner, Frank Lou ’23 offered Chinese calligraphy lessons for anyone who wanted to learn how to write their new year’s wishes in Chinese characters. Students from Brewster’s Mandarin classes decorated the Grayson Student Center and Estabrook with colorful Lunar New Year paper hangings and designs to set the festive mood. You’ll see a lot of rabbits and cats in the decor: This year, the traditional symbol of the Lunar New Year has a slight twist. For most, it is the Year of the Rabbit. But in Vietnam, it is the Year of the Cat. Many believe this change from one fuzzy creature to another stems from the Chinese word for rabbit sounding like the Vietnamese word for cat, but some believe it is an ancient difference between the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars.
Earlier in the day, a few international student leaders from China, South Korea, and Vietnam gave a culture presentation to their fellow Bobcats about the holiday, its history and meaning, and helped grow understanding about the different traditions that make the shared holiday unique to each group that celebrates. “I loved the presentations and found it really informative as I learned a lot,” Paulina Trott ‘24: shared. “I liked hearing about the different animals that are represented each year in different countries.”
Mr. Wang shared his gratitude for the student cooks and cultural ambassadors’ efforts. “All of these international students have been so proud, excited, and enthusiastic about sharing their home-made dishes with our entire community to bring joy and culture awareness,” he said, adding that all their hard work to brainstorm, prepare, and serve their food didn’t dampen that enthusiasm one bit. “For that, I am extremely grateful and proud of these students, and hope to continue this wonderful tradition at Brewster for years to come.” Everyone who tried the dishes and gained insights from the presentation agreed.
We wish everyone good luck and prosperity in the new year, and hope you enjoy photos from Brewster’s Lunar New Year celebrations here.
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