By Nichole Smith
Every year, Montverde Academy celebrates the Lunar New Year. Mr. Robert Burke, a history teacher in the Upper School who taught at Shanghai International School of Montverde Academy for several summers, recently became the sponsor for the Chinese Club and chaired this year’s Lunar New Year celebration.
Lunar New Year is not only a Chinese celebration — it’s a holiday celebrated throughout several Asian cultures. The Chinese New Year in particular, however, is the biggest and the most visible of the celebrations. Students in China will typically have a holiday from school for about three weeks. “I tell the students here – to put it in an American perspective – it would be like rolling Christmas, New Year’s, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving all into one holiday. That’s the significance,” said Mr. Burke.
When talking to the Chinese students at MVA, Mr. Burke discovered that although they can celebrate the Lunar New Year here by taking a day off from school or going to a restaurant, those celebrations did not match the size and scope of their celebrations back home. To meet this need, the Chinese Club established a week-long observance called Lunar New Year Week.
On Wednesday of Lunar New Year Week, several varieties of authentic snacks were generously provided by MVA parents Huifen Yin and Tina Fu. Snacks were handed out and enjoyed by Middle and Upper school students during lunches.
Red is seen as a very lucky color. At a young age, students in China receive a red envelope filled with cash from their parents or grandparents during the Lunar New Year celebrations. And when they eventually become an adult, they are expected to hand down red envelopes to their own children, nieces, nephews, etc. Students who participated in this year’s Lunar New Year Week at MVA stopped by the table set up in the courtyard and, with the help of the Chinese Club students, learned how to say Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese. Then their name was added to a raffle for a Target gift card that was in a red envelope.
On Friday, students who wanted to show their support for the Lunar New Year, wore a red shirt and had their picture taken. Their name was placed into a raffle, as well.
The Lunar New Year Week aimed to make the celebration more common knowledge at Montverde Academy. “I feel like Montverde, as a diverse school, can’t just have diversity — it has to understand that level of diversity,” said Mr. Burke. “What is a Lunar New Year? How do you say Happy New Year? Everybody knows Feliz Navidad because we’re so close to Hispanic culture. But Chinese culture, being literally and culturally on the other side of the world, it’s sometimes hard to make that connection. So that was the goal of Lunar New Year Week, to make it so visible that by the time somebody graduates from Montverde Academy, saying Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese is common knowledge.”
Yintong Xu, a 12th grade member of the Chinese Club who volunteered at the Lunar New Year Week, said, “This is a great experience for me to share my culture with other students.”
Mr. Burke said, “I was happy that the students in the Chinese Club were open and positive about sharing their culture, and they received really good reception from students that were interested in learning just for the sake of learning and understanding their classmates’ cultural a little bit better. Students always surprise me every year how much they turn out and support the event even if it’s something they don’t know anything about, which always creates a positive, character-building atmosphere.”
Max Zhang, a 10th grade member of the Chinese Club who volunteered, said, “I enjoyed the Lunar New Year Week very much since we got a lot of members to participate and help out in the events.”
Mr. Burke hopes that the club will continue to see growth. “All students are welcome. We have several students who are interested in learning the language and learning the culture,” Mr. Burke said. Next year, the goal is not just to be inclusive of everybody that wants to participate but also to be inclusive of participants in all three divisions at Montverde Academy.
On behalf of the Chinese Club and MVA, Xīnnián kuàilè, 新年快乐, Happy New Year!