Celebrating harmony in diversity
By Mroivili Faouzia  ·  2024-02-26  ·   Source: NO.9 FEBRUARY 29, 2024
Mroivili Faouzia (right) and her friends make dumplings to celebrate the Spring Festival together at her Tianjin University dormitory on February 9, Chinese New Year's Eve (COURTESY PHOTO)

As an international student pursuing a bachelor's degree at Tianjin University, I have been living in Tianjin, a metropolis in north China, for four and a half years. During this time, I have had the privilege of participating in the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, celebrations with my Chinese friends as well as other students from different countries.

Through these experiences, I have discovered the richness and diversity of Chinese culture and the sense of belonging and community that the Spring Festival fosters.

The Spring Festival is the most important and celebrated festival in China, marking the end of winter and the beginning of a new year. For many Chinese, it is a time to reunite with family, honor ancestors and enjoy a range of traditional customs. But, as a foreigner living in China, how does one experience the culture, history and spirit of this ancient festival?

As this year's holiday approached, I was filled with a sense of anticipation. I wondered what new and amazing experiences were awaiting me and how they would shape my understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture and society. Little did I know that this year's celebration would be the most memorable and transformative one of my life.

I celebrated my first Chinese New Year in Tianjin in 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging around the world. Despite the challenges and restrictions, I was able to celebrate the occasion with my Chinese friend, who invited me to her home for the Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. She prepared a feast of dumplings, fish, chicken and other dishes and told me the stories and meanings behind each one.

We also tuned in to the China Central Television Spring Festival Gala, a famous annual TV show that showcases song and dance performances, comedy sketches and celebrities. We had a wonderful time talking and laughing, and feeling the friendship and warmth of the festival.

This year, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Spring Festival in a more immersive and diverse way. On the 29th day of the 12th lunar month, on February 8 this year, I pasted characters and couplets conveying good fortune on the doors and windows of our dorm, wishing us success in the new lunisolar year.

Then, I went to Tianjin Ancient Culture Street, a famous tourist attraction showcasing the architectural and artistic heritage of Tianjin. There, I learned the art of recitation (langsong in Chinese) from a master, a form of oral literature that combines storytelling, singing and acting. I was fascinated by the master's skill and expression, and tried to imitate his voice and gestures.

While making my way along the street, I also indulged in a jianbing guozi, a popular local street food consisting of a thin pancake wrapped around a deep-fried dough stick, and rice cakes, sweet and sticky snacks made from glutinous rice.

The most memorable part of my Spring Festival celebration this year was New Year's Eve, when I met up with schoolmates and the kind and generous women who serve as "dorm aunties" for the foreign students on campus.

We made dumplings, a traditional dish eaten on New Year's Eve. They showed me how to make the dough, fill the wrappers and fold them into different shapes. We made a lot of dumplings and then ate them together, talking and laughing. It was a simple but unforgettable night, filled with warmth and love.

This tradition of making and eating dumplings on New Year's Eve is more than just a culinary activity. It is a symbol of reunion and resilience, honoring the past and embracing the present, and of sharing and caring. For us, this tradition fostered bonds of friendship and cultural exchange, reinforcing the theme of community woven throughout my narrative.

As I look back on my Tianjin Spring Festival experiences, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and enrichment. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to immerse myself in Chinese traditions and learn from them, and for the meaningful and lasting connections I formed with the local community. I feel enriched by the diversity and complexity of Chinese culture, and by the valuable insights and perspectives I have gained from living in China.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year has taught me the value of tradition, community and continuous learning, inspiring me to continue exploring and expanding my knowledge. 

The author is a Comorian student at Tianjin University

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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