Changing Meanings of “Traditional”

One of the biggest celebrations of Chinese culture is Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. It is a holiday that symbolizes new beginnings and a new year, and there are many festivities that go on during this time. Unlike New Year’s in America, the holiday does not fall on January 1st, but rather changes each year depending on the lunar calendar. This year, I happened to go the Chinese New Year celebration planned out by CSA. Although it was a fun event with good food and great performances, it made me realize how different this holiday was celebrated in comparison to how people celebrate the holiday in China. This shows that the concept of traditional is always being shaped and changed by the changing surroundings and environment of the people involved which brings implications to both Asians and Asian Americans in the future.

Although China is a big country with many dialects and provinces, Chinese New Year is still celebrated by all. In the video above, the scenes show different people speaking different dialects in different parts of China. Even though this highlights the diversity of China as a whole, it captures a common theme throughout. The theme is the idea of being together and honoring the values that have been taught such as respect, care, good-neighborliness, etc. Although there were festivities going on, it mostly highlighted the intimacy of the overall holiday and showed that the emphasis was on family. In a sense, it downplayed the hype of the holiday and showed that Chinese New Year was not special because of the dances and loud performances but because of the small gathering of family members.

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On the contrary, the lunar banquet that I attended emphasized the performance aspect of Chinese New Year. It was focused more on inclusivity than on intimacy. Although there were traditional performances such as the lion dance and the TianYi dance performances, it was balanced by other modernized American acts such as the a cappella group called Faux Paz and dance groups who performed to K-pop songs. In this sense, it was trying to cater not only to a Chinese American audience but also to all Asian Americans and other races as well. Furthermore, since the event was hosted by a student organization, it was structured with how a younger generation (and possibly a more Americanized generation) viewed traditionalism in terms of Chinese New Year.

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This change in the meaning of “traditional” is not necessarily seen in a definitive light, rather it is a gray area that brings implications to both sides. Looking at this change from one side, it can mean a good thing as it is more inclusive of both cultures, American and Chinese. It does not force Chinese Americans to choose between the two cultures and see which one they identify with most, but rather allows them to blend in both of their cultures into something that they can understand. However, on the other hand, Chinese New Year is a holiday that is celebrated mostly for bringing family together and for reinforcing the idea of togetherness. It highlights the important cultural values that have been taught and passed down from generation to generation, and the introduction of an Americanized Chinese New Year can hinder those values from being put into practice and can undermine the main basis of the holiday. Furthermore, it can drive a barrier between Chinese and Chinese Americans as their ideals and own interpretations of the traditional festivities differ.

This indicates that there is a significance to understanding how the idea of traditional is altered over time. As society progresses to emphasize more modernization, it is important to realize that certain cultural ideals are being shifted as well. Looking at this small example of how traditionalism changes in the celebration of Chinese New Year allows us to focus on the changes that have been made and allows us to recognize that there is a substantial impact on the understanding of culture in the long run.

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