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NWO celebrates… Chinese New Year

Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig: this is the ‘Chinese zodiac’. In contrast to Western traditions, it is based on year of birth instead of month. This zodiac follows a 12-year cycle in which each year is assigned to an animal. The Chinese New Year started on 1 February, and the animal assigned to 2022 is the Tiger. Chinese New Year is a feast that is celebrated for fifteen days during which the family and rich traditions of the past are honoured. The editorial team spoke to five Chinese colleagues from the NWO Institutes about how they celebrate Chinese New Year: Chenglu Jin and Jie Li (CWI), Mingxuan Wu and Qi Liu – Ricky (NIOZ) and Shih-Chi Wang (DIFFER).

Chenglu Jin | Tenure-track Researcher/Scientific Staff Member in the Computer Security Group CWI

‘For me, Chinese New Years mark an important milestone. I usually look back on what I have achieved in the past year and make plans for the coming year. Typically, every Chinese family will come together and have a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. This is also a great chance to catch up with relatives you don’t meet very often.’

I’ve not had the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year in China for ten years. So I’m not sure how people celebrate Chinese New Year in China now. As I am abroad and cannot go back home, I usually meet up with friends, and we have dinner together. Sometimes, we make and eat dumplings, although it is not the New Year tradition in the area where I come from. Effectively, my friends are my family when I am away from home. However, I will definitely have a video call with my family in China on New Year’s Eve and chat with all of them. Another thing I usually do is watch CCTV New Year’s Gala. Although it has become increasingly boring, it is still a way to feel the New Year’s atmosphere.

I think the most important thing about the New Year holiday is to get together with my family. The tradition is that people should come home from all around the world on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been able to do that for ten years due to various reasons. When I was a student, I could not go back because Chinese New Year was always in the middle of spring semesters. Since my graduation, I have not been able to go back due to COVID-19. Next year, I hope I can go back to China to visit my family and celebrate Chinese New Year together with them.

One of the New Year’s decorations is paper-cutting art that symbolizes luck and good fortune. We paste it on our doors and windows. This year, we also added two “COVID-19 special versions” of threshold guardians (Menshen) on the front door of our house to keep bad omens and the virus out of our home.’

Jie Li | Researcher Distributive and Interactive Systems CWI

‘Chinese New Year means a big family gathering for me. In our generation (1980s-1990s), we are mostly the “only child” in the family. So family gathering is not just the grandparents, parents and me, but also all the aunts, uncles and cousins who get together at a grandparent’s home. In my family, we often cook together. We make 20 dishes and share these with everyone in the family. The kitchen is full of nice smells and laughter. My cousins like to play with fireworks and explore my grandparents’ neighbourhood. I am a quiet person, so I spend more time helping in the kitchen, enjoying the special warm and cosy feelings that you can only have during the Chinese New Year.

I can remember as a child being quite tired during the celebrations of Chinese New Year. My school was rather competitive and I often suffered from a lack of sleep. Chinese New Year is usually in the middle of the school’s 1-month winter vacation. So it was always a relaxing period for me. I slept a lot and spent time with my cousins, who I did not see that often. Apart from cooking and eating, watching the Chinese New Year Gala show on TV together with my family on a cosy coach was a nice thing to do. This 4-hour Gala show has taken place every Chinese New Year since 1983. It is not only about watching the show or the content. The atmosphere that the show creates is also important, and it has become a symbol of the Chinese New Year.

Of course, COVID-19 has changed the celebrations because it has because it is impossible for me to go home for Chinese New Year. So we celebrated with our friends here in the Netherlands. We cooked a full table of Sichuan dishes, red and spicy (photo attached), wishing us all a prosperous new year.

I also baked many lucky bag cakes for my dearest friends. The red lucky bags used a Dutch pancake recipe for the outside “bag”, and on the inside, there was a pecan banana chiffon cake with salted caramel cream. The outside of the pink/green lucky bags are made from white beans and rice, and on the inside, I placed the same cake as in the red bags (see attached photos).

The most fun thing I did this New Year was to design a set of stone-themed sweets for the exhibition “twilight of the idols” by an artist couple, Cedric and Lu Liang. I used three ancient Chinese poems as a source of inspiration. It was a beautiful event, where visitors came to see the stone-themed exhibition while trying my Chinese stone-themed sweets. This allowed them to experience the collision and mingling of Western and Eastern cultures (attached photos).

In closing, I want to wish everyone a prosperous tiger’s year! 虎虎生威’

Mingxuan Wu | PhD student Estuarine & Delta Systems NIOZ

‘Chinese New Year means “reunion” for me. Every Chinese New Year, my big family, 4 generations and more than 20 people, hold a reunion. This is because some people in my family work or study in other cities, so they only come home during the holidays.

We have a reunion party every Lunar New Year’s Eve. Elders always give every young child a “red envelope” on that night. Then during the Spring festival (from the first to the eighth day in the Chinese New Year), relatives and close friends visit each other. So it’s a rare and valuable opportunity to keep in touch, especially with friends and family members who are hard to see.

I can vividly remember that COVID-19 was discovered in China just a few days before the Lunar New Year of 2020. Almost all families in China had to change their plans to celebrate the New Year. In our family, we did not have a big party like before but celebrated it in my immediate family (just my dad, mom and me). After that, we stayed at home for almost two months. We only went out when we needed to buy some daily necessities or food. Luckily, the epidemic was well controlled after a difficult period of six months, and so we were able to celebrate New Year together again in 2021.’

I think the most fun and special thing is that almost all businesses are closed during the Spring Festival holiday, and so all of us get a chance to focus on and enjoy the family. It is the one time we can forget about work or learning. Also, workers and students who live thousands of miles away return home at this special time.

I have only spent a little time at home since I went to university in 2013. So every year, I look forward to going home to enjoy time with my family and the people I grew up with. Now, I would really like to accompany my little niece during the New Year holidays. She is just four years old, and we always have such fun together!”

Qi Liu – Ricky | PhD student Estuarine & Delta Systems NIOZ

The first thing that came into my head when you asked me about Chinese New Year is family. In modern society and in a large country like China, most young people live in big cities to study or work. New Year is the only opportunity they get to go home and meet their parents and other relatives. The second thing about Chinese New Year is expectation. People can endure all of the hardships throughout the whole year just for the last day when they can go back and spend time with the people they love and share all the harvest with.

Two things are vital for celebrating this day. One is a good meal. That is usually dinner, and everyone in the family will cook the cuisine that they can prepare the best. The other one is the Spring Festival Gala on the national television channel. People watch the programmes performed by the most famous stars and talk about these. These gala performances are something that everybody in the country would like to see live. Due to COVID-19, many people cannot go back home to celebrate this festival and enjoy meals with their families, which is quite frustrating. However, we can always watch the same TV show and share our views on it, and that is something to be grateful for in these difficult times.

The most special part of the celebrations for me is visiting relatives and friends on the first day of the lunar new year, which is the day after Chinese New Year Eve. People will go to their relatives and friends’ houses to greet each other wearing new clothes and shoes. Usually, on this day, you can see people who you only have one chance to meet every year. And the elders will always give younger ones red envelopes containing money as a gift, which is the most exciting part for children, and of course, for me in the past!’

Shih-Chi Wang | PhD student DIFFER

‘For me, the meaning of Chinese New Year is very simple: culture. I grew up with this culture in Taiwan, and I celebrated it every year with my family. A part of my brain is occupied by images and emotions about Chinese New Year from my childhood. These memories pop up whenever I think about this annual event.

How I celebrate the holiday very much depends on where I am. If it is in Taiwan, we typically do something like what Europeans do for their Christmas. First, there are a few days of holidays. We go ‘New Year’ shopping and prepare lots of food for a great family dinner and also religious events. We clean and decorate our home with New-Year-related ornaments. Most importantly, we visit family members and close friends. So it is a holiday to relax by being very busy sometimes. On the other hand, if it is in the Netherlands, then as you can imagine, we miss quite a few things. We basically do the same things as in Taiwan, but in a much simpler manner. Below you can see a photo of a Chinese New Year performance at an oriental shop in Eindhoven before the COVID-19 pandemic. I took this picture when I went shopping with my family, and it was pretty much the best we could do for Chinese New Year in Eindhoven. Unfortunately, since Corona hit the Netherlands, even this type of celebratory event has been scaled down or simply just disappeared. I feel this culture is being damaged.

What is the most special part for me personally? My answer to this difficult question is full of emotions. To be honest,  I like everything. It is no longer Chinese New Year for me if we forget about the ‘New-Year’ shopping in a busy street. No fun at all if we leave out the great family dinner and heart-warming ornaments at home. Nothing to remember afterwards if we do not create memories by visiting family members and close friends. There are so many details and rituals to build up this culture. I don’t want to miss them, and I hope to find them back soon.’

Text: Seray Ünsal

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Diversity and inclusion at NWO and NWO-I

This new section will be published on both the NWO intranet Joost and the newsletter Inside NWO-I. This is an initiative from the NWO-D and NWO-I wide Diversity team. We aim to realise working in an inclusive organisation with inclusive procedures. We believe that we can achieve our strategic ambitions as NWO if we also seek to be a diverse organisation with an inclusive culture. Diversity brings us creativity, innovation, and renewal. In addition to this, we are convinced that we will have more societal impact as NWO if our organisation reflects the society we are part of. This means that as an employer, NWO needs to ensure that everybody is welcome, can be themselves and can perform at their best. This Diversity and Inclusion calendar contributes to that. You can read more about diversity and inclusion on the NWO website. And in the January edition of Inside NWO-I, we published the article “Striving for an organisation where everybody can be themselves” about diversity within NWO and NWO-I.

Section NWO celebrates … based on an annual calendar

We base the section “NWO celebrates…” on an annual calendar that we have produced ourselves. You can find our calendar here. An annual calendar does not necessarily have to start on 1 January. Various Roman emperors and several popes changed the dates making a year start on 1 March, or 25 March or perhaps 1 January? That set us thinking: which dates do we still take for granted, and how do others view that? Time for a calendar that includes all special days: days that we as NWO employees can celebrate together. We hope this calendar will help us to get to know each other better, increase our knowledge about other festive days, and give us opportunities to open up the conversation and discover which (festive) days are special for us and why.

See the calendar 'NWO celebrates' and read the other articles from the section 'NWO celebrates...'

Would you like to participate in this section?

Is your (festive) day missing from the calendar? Or would you like to say something in the section “NWO celebrates…” about one of the special days on this calendar? If that is the case, then please send an email to Nicole Verhoeven (n.verhoeven@nwo.nl). Then we will add your date to the calendar and contact you for a possible interview for this section.

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