Learning about different cultures and traditions throughout the world gives kids a heart for missions and a love of human geography. One way to immerse yourself into another culture is to celebrate its holidays. Thus the Chinese New Year provides a perfect opportunity to learn about the customs and beliefs of Chinese people.
What is the Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year marks the end of the coldest part of winter and the coming of spring. The date varies since it is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar, but it generally falls between January 21 and February 4. It was originally celebrated as a time to rest and to prepare for the new farming year. With time it transformed into a celebration of the beginning of a new business year and hope for profits.
2017 is the Year of the Rooster
In Chinese culture, each year is represented by the Chinese zodiac animal which cycles every 12 years. The animals that represent each of the 12 years are as follows:
The year 2017 marks the year of the rooster which means anyone whose birth year fell in the year of the rooster will be marked with bad luck. It is believed that to avoid bad luck, one must wear the color red.
To celebrate the new year, the Chinese focus on building good relationships with others or repairing those that have soured. They also buy and wear new clothing and spend time cleaning their homes. Here are two pictures books to give your children an introduction to the celebration (affiliate links):
- Learn To Read Holiday Series: Celebrating Chinese New Year
By Creative Teaching Press
- Long-Long’s New Year: A Story about the Chinese Spring Festival
By Catherine Gower & He Zhihong
5 Ways to Celebrate Chinese New Year in Your Homeschool
Decorate in Red
Since red is associated with luck in Chinese culture, the new year is always portrayed with red and gold. Many decorate by hanging red Chinese lanterns. Others display red paper cut into intricate designs in windows. Some even hang door couplets that express good wishes.
Whatever animal is featured for the year is also used to decorate. Paintings that depict these animals are often hung on display, and dolls of the animal are given to children as gifts. Try creating your own paper designs and door couplets to decorate your home in celebration of the Chinese New Year. You can even attempt to paint a photo of the animal the current year represents.
Host a Family Reunion Dinner
Traditionally on the eve of the Chinese New Year, families gather together to visit and partake in a celebratory reunion dinner. These dinners usually consist of meals made from what is believed to be lucky foods.
Some of these lucky foods and what they represent include:
- Fish, representing prosperity
- Spring rolls, representing wealth
- Dumplings, representing wealth
- Tangyuan (sweet rice balls), representing togetherness with family
- Niangao (glutinous rice cakes), representing a higher income or promotion
Consider hosting your own family reunion dinner in honor of the Chinese New Year. Of course, don’t forget to decorate and wear red clothing.
Another popular tradition for the Chinese New Year celebration is the giving and receiving of red money-filled packets. These packets are given to family members, good family friends, and employees. Since red symbolizes happiness, energy, and good luck, these packets are always red in color. Even though they contain money, the significance is actually with the packets themselves.
By wrapping money in these red packets, it is hoped that the recipients will be blessed with happiness and prosperity. It is considered impolite for the recipients to open the packets publicly. Create your own red packets and hand them out to your loved ones on the Chinese New Year.
Watch or Perform a Dragon Dance
One of the most popular ceremonial activities of the Chinese New Year is the dragon dance. The original intent of the dragon dance was performed to worship ancestors and to pray for rain. Now they are mostly performed for entertainment.
The dragon costume can be as long as 30 meters and are held up with by individuals with long rods in odd numbers. The body of the dragon costume is generally made using strips of bamboo. The body of the dragon is then covered with a red blanket that comes from the temple and is decorated with dragon scales.
At the end of the performance, the head of the dragon is typically burned, and the blanket that covers the body returns to the temple once again. Watch a video of a dragon dance. Then try to create your own costume to perform a dragon dance of your own.
Fireworks and Lanterns
The end of the Chinese New Year celebration is generally marked by a fireworks display or lantern festival. Fireworks are used because they are believed to scare away evil demons and spirits with their loud bangs and flashes of light. On the 15th day of the Spring Festival, many gather to enjoy the sights of the fireworks and lanterns. Festivals like these are not only filled with fireworks and lanterns but also lion dances and traditional food.
Try ending your own Chinese New Year celebrations by shooting off colorful fireworks. If fireworks are not an option, consider lighting and releasing a red lantern of your own.