The year of the rat is officially upon us. On Sunday, there was scarcely an empty stomach or frown in sight as people from across the Twin Cities celebrated the arrival of “chun jie” — or, Chinese New Year — at the new University Food Hall in Dinkytown.
Considering that the University of Minnesota is home to more than 3,100 students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year — it made sense for the Food Hall to host the celebration.
Harrison Jao, a University alumnus, attended the event while in town visiting for the holiday. After graduating from the University last year, Jao moved back to China. But the 13 hour flight to the United States could not deter him from spending the family-oriented holiday with his loved ones in Minnesota.
“It’s like Thanksgiving for you [in America],” he said, emphasizing the importance of being with family for the holiday.
Chinese New Year celebrations span 15 days and each day has its own significance and traditions. Dates of the Chinese New Year change from year to year, as the holiday is based on the position of the moon.
One of the most prominent traditions is the giving and receiving of red envelopes, a color which is symbolic of good fortune in Chinese culture. Upon arriving at the event, every attendee received a red envelope. During Chinese New Year, the envelopes are filled with money and given to children and young adults.
Traditional red and multicolored lanterns adorned the ceilings of the Food Hall, some tagged with riddles to be solved, which Yama Zhong, manager of the University Food Hall and the organizer of its Lunar New Year celebration, said is a common game for the holiday.
Zhong said she waited for the second day of the New Year to allow revelers to spend New Years Day with their family. Hundreds attended the event, enjoying traditional Chinese and Taiwanese fare, dances set to Korean pop music and raffle prizes. Food was central to the event, with every corner of the space filled with culinary offerings.
“There is lots of traditional food [that] you cannot find on a normal day in a restaurant," Zhong said.
For Ziyi Qian, the food was the highlight of the event. Qian traveled from from Eagan to take part. Lines wrapped around the food court for steamed buns and Chinese barbecue. Among the vendors were Ichiddo Ramen, Tea House, Haiku Japanese Bistro, MinneBun and Ichigo Tokyo Crepes.
And there was no shortage of other festivities. Attendees also dressed up in Hanfu garb — traditional Chinese wrap dresses — and took photos in a corner of the food hall.
Overall, Zhong said her hope for the event was to offer a place that felt like home to the Chinese community.
“We tried to make it as traditional as we could,” said Zhong.
“We [hoped] a lot of students [who were] homesick can come here and join us, so we can celebrate together. And they’ll feel much better.”