Today marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year – a time for family gatherings and togetherness in Chinese culture.

CSSA, UT's Chinese Students and Scholars Association, will host a Chinese New Year Party tonight from 5:30-9:30 p.m. in the University Center.

Another celebratory event, the East Tennessee Chinese New Year Festival, will take place this Sunday, Feb. 2.

Both events are being put on to honor the traditional Chinese holiday of the New Year.

Bilin Chen, a fourth year Ph.D. student studying material science and engineering, is the president of UT's Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

Chen said he is excited about the New Year celebration events.

"Christmas is biggest in America, but in Chinese culture, Spring Festival is the time for families to come together," Chen said. "In China, family is a big thing. Reunion dinner is usually held on Chinese New Year's Eve. Thursday is the last day of the year, and a reunion dinner is held on that night. Friday is similar to New Year's Day, here in America."

The festival held Sunday in the Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building and the party Friday are both open for all to attend.

According to the event's website, the East Tennessee Chinese New Year Festival "will feature local talent in dancing, singing, martial arts, music and some special surprises."

A special performance from professional acrobat Jui Wei, who has performed in more than 15 countries, will also be on display. Wei will demonstrate his talents in juggling and acrobatics.

"The festival is important to celebrate because it is a special time in the Chinese culture," Chen said. "It is a time of relaxation for many people who work hard throughout the year. After a certain age, some parents expect you to bring your spouse or significant other with you to dinner."

Chen said that in America, when Chinese New Year's occurs, it has already happened in China, so many international students who are in America stay awake to call home.

While the festival is open to anyone who buys a ticket, the party Friday is hosted by CSSA, and tickets are only available through CSSA members. The party will feature authentic Chinese cuisine, and those in attendance will enjoy conversation and be able to watch a big screen live-feed of the Chinese New Year show from China.

Xinyu Bi, sophomore in accounting and a committee member of CSSA, said there are also many other customs that occur along with the annual festivals.

"During this time of year, gifts are received and exchanged," Bi said. "There are firecrackers used to welcome people into the New Year. The older often give gifts to the younger children."

Much like the American New Year traditions, local and national news channels broadcast live from certain festivals and performances.

"China Central Television and other local channels host different shows, according to each providence," Bi said. "Some festivals are different, depending on the location."

There is also the exchange of money and coins during the holiday season, which is referred to as the "red envelope." Other occurrences are those of dragon or lion dances, which are major highlights of each Chinese New Year festival.

"In China, before midnight, many have a display of fireworks and celebrate," Chen said. "At night, they close the doors for the old year, then in the morning, open them again for the New Year, with another firework celebration."

For more information on the East Tennessee Chinese New Year Festival or to purchase tickets, visit the event's website at knoxvillechineseculture.org.