Although many Chinese and Chinese-American students were unable to return to their homes this weekend to celebrate the Chinese New Year with their families, the Chinese American Students Association provided a surrogate family — and a hot meal — to those who remained in New Haven.

Participants dined Friday night in the Branford College dining hall, which was equipped with traditional Chinese “hot pots,” or portable gas stoves. While the event was informal, outgoing CASA President Lily Lo ’05 said it was a powerful way to strengthen the Chinese and Chinese-American community.

“Chinese New Year’s is a very important holiday to recognize and celebrate,” Lo said. “It’s a big part of our culture, and it’s a very family-based event. It’s kind of corny, I suppose, but we were, and are, trying to cultivate a kind of CASA family.”

Lo said another goal of the event was to better familiarize CASA members with the incoming officers, who will be sworn in this Friday night.

Outgoing Treasurer Eric Liu ’06 said he did not feel that CASA’s New Year’s celebration was large in scope, but he said there was value in the community-building aspect of the dinner.

“It was a pretty laid-back, informal atmosphere, but CASA creates what they call ‘families’ by assigning incoming freshmen to the charge of upperclassmen,” said Liu, who ate with his freshman “daughter” and her friends from Calhoun.

But the bonding and celebration were interrupted when one of the hot pots exploded, burning Tammy Ku ’05 and Cultural Chairperson Yvonne Lai ’05. Lai, who was stirring the pot’s contents when it exploded, attributed the accident to a missing grill that would normally have separated the pot from the flame itself.

“I heard a pop, and I kind of jumped backwards,” Lai said. “When you hear something like that, you just react. I just saw flames in front of me, and I started running, but then I heard someone say, ‘Put out the fire that’s on her.’ My hair and my face caught on fire, and my right hand was also a little messed up.”

While Lai was taken to Yale University Health Services, she was released with some hair loss and no major injuries.

“They took me to DUH, but by then my face was fine, just really hot,” she said. “They put gel on my hands and wrapped them up, and by the next day they looked fine. I’m kind of glad that I just lost hair — there were no blisters, and it wasn’t even a first-degree burn.”

CASA officials agreed to compensate Lai for any damages.

Ku declined to comment.

Rather than let the accident cast a pall over the New Year’s celebration, Lo said she kept spirits high.

“I think that it was a very small accident,” Lo said. “Everything was pretty much figured out pretty quickly, so I don’t really think it’s an issue.”