Sidwell Friends Celebrates the Lunar New Year with Music, Food—and Lettuce?

Lions are not typically vegetarians. With one notable exception: the lion that performed in front of the Sidwell Friends community during the Lunar New Year celebration on January 26. To help kick off the Year of the Rat, that lion enjoyed a hearty vegan meal.

“I liked feeding the lion lettuce,” said Erin ’29, after returning from delivering her leafy contribution. After his repast, the lion scattered the leaves, symbolizing the spreading of good luck.

Sponsored by the Parents of Asian Students, the Sunday celebration brought Sidwell students, parents, faculty, and staff together to celebrate the holiday and to learn about the traditions that surround it. Dumplings, a traditional New Year’s food (the packets symbolize longevity and wealth) were available to all—but not just Chinese versions. Parents prepared dumplings from many cultures, including lumpia, shumai, and samosas, reflecting the diversity of cultures present at the celebration.

“It draws people not only of Asian backgrounds, but invites people from all backgrounds to come and take part,” said Sohaer Rizvi, a co-clerk of the Parents of Asian Students at the Lower School. “And it’s definitely so much easier for a child to absorb and to retain. Now, whenever they see the lion dance, they’re going to connect it with their personal experience.”

2019 Lunar Year 2

The lion dance wasn’t the only performance. Niky ’20 played a sanxian, an instrument he studied during a School-sponsored trip to the Yunnan Province in China.

During the trip, “everyone got to apprentice with a local craftsman,” he said. “I already played guitar, so I wanted to see how much of my skills would translate to this instrument.”

Guitar skills notwithstanding, Niky—who has studied Chinese for six years—didn’t necessarily find it easy to pick up the banjo-like instrument. “I heard the song I played at the local temple, where a music group was playing traditional Yunnan folk songs,” he said. “They would play the whole song, and when I tried to play it back, I’d get through two notes before they would interrupt me and say, ‘No, no,’ and play the whole song for me over again.”

The Lunar New Year celebration, said Rizvi, is representative of SFS’s commitment to showcasing the diversity of its students. “That’s what makes Sidwell Friends special,” she said. “That’s what gives children the confidence to be themselves, to have their own identity without any fear of not being accepted or having to conform.”

Music, dumplings, and a lettuce-eating lion: May they all contribute to a lucky and successful Year of the Rat.

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