Amherst Rings In the Year of the Dragon

Lunar New Year festivities rolled through campus over the past week, from Val’s special Lunar New Year dinner to events hosted by campus affinity groups ASA, CSA, and SEASA.

Amherst Rings In the Year of the Dragon
Students gathered to enjoy food at ASA and CSA’s joint Lunar New Year event at the Powerhouse. Photo courtesy of Clarissa Leong ’27.

Countless people across the globe celebrated Lunar New Year on Saturday, Feb. 10, which marks the beginning of the year of the Dragon. Lunar New Year celebrations vary by culture but can include lighting lanterns, lion dances, gifting money, and of course, eating delicious food. However, our small campus in Western Massachusetts was not without its own celebrations.

Amherst’s Lunar New Year festivities commenced on Thursday, Feb. 8 at Valentine Dining Hall, as Val continued its tradition of hosting a special New Year’s feast inspired by various Asian cuisines. This year, they crafted the menu with input from students and collaborated with the Center for International Student Engagement (CISE).

It’s traditional in many Lunar New Year celebrations to give and receive red envelopes filled with money to bring in good luck for the new year ahead. While Val unfortunately didn’t have the budget for this, they nonetheless adapted the tradition by providing students with red envelopes containing fortunes as they entered the dining hall. Students were also greeted with beautiful decorations including traditional red lanterns which represent good luck.

In honor of Lunar New Year, Val was decorated with traditional red decor, including lanterns and fans. Photo courtesy of Abby Kim ’27.

The dinner featured Peking-style duck, char siu pork ribs, roasted ginger black bass, fried rice, longevity noodles, momo dumplings, egg rolls, Chinese broccoli stir fry, mapo tofu, and chilled sesame noodles. Desserts included egg tarts and mango sago, as well as frozen treats like ice cream mochi and dragon fruit sorbet that quickly disappeared due to high demand.

Alex DaRosa ’24 particularly appreciated the broccoli and longevity noodles, noting that “the food was actually pretty good, although it might not have been completely authentic.”

Several clubs on campus also hosted their own events to celebrate Lunar New Year. The Asian Student Association (ASA) and the Chinese Student Association (CSA) co-hosted a multicultural Lunar New Year event in the Powerhouse on Saturday, Feb. 10. As is the case with most ASA events, students began lining up outside half an hour before the doors opened at 6 p.m., and the line stretched far outside the Powerhouse.

The celebration featured a variety of dishes from local restaurants Formosa and Miss Saigon, including noodles, rice cakes, mapo tofu, and dumplings made on the spot by ASA e-board members. Students filled every table in the Powerhouse, happily enjoying their meals and pausing only to take photos with friends among the festive decorations.

ASA e-board member Ethan Lin ’27 reflected positively on the event, commenting that “seeing so many of my Amherst peers show up on an important night for many Asian students was an exciting experience.”

Earlier the same day, the Southeast Asian Students Association (SEASA) celebrated Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, in Ford Event Space. SEASA decorated the room in traditional red and gold, and played a slideshow with fun facts about Tết. The event featured catering from local Vietnamese restaurant Miss Saigon, including off-the-menu items like bò lúc lắc (shaking beef) and xôi ngọt (sweet sticky rice). To the delight of every attendee, SEASA e-board members also offered bowls of steaming hot phở.

Students celebrated Tết at SEASA’s Vietnamese Lunar New Year event, hosted in brightly-decorated Ford Event Space. Photo courtesy of Taichi Kato ’24.

“I was really impressed by the off-menu items like the sticky rice,” said Aidan Orr ’24. “It was good as hell.”

SEASA entertained attendees with a Polaroid photoshoot area and traditional Têt games like Vietnamese lotto and Bầu Cua Cá Cọp, a dice game. The two lucky lotto winners each won a stuffed animal dressed up in a dragon costume in honor of this year’s zodiac.

The numerous Lunar New Year events at Amherst offered some much-needed cheer and celebration to kick off the new semester and the new year at Amherst. But most importantly, they provided students who celebrate Lunar New Year a welcoming community away from home.