Chinese New Year is a great holiday to celebrate with your children. Chinese New Year is all about spending time with family, eating delicious food, and starting off the year on the right foot. If you are looking for a fun and educational cultural experience for your children, celebrate Chinese New Year this year!
Here are fifteen traditions you can incorporate into your celebration:
1. Learn The History Of Chinese New Year
The best way to celebrate something is to learn more about it. The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and the Chinese Lunar New Year. It is a fifteen-day celebration that has been observed for thousands of years. It is thought to have originated out of a legend. A great beast named Nian would attack villagers in China so villagers would use the color red, loud noise, and bright lights to scare him off. These elements are found in the way the New Year is celebrated today. People wear red and decorate their homes with red because it is the color of happiness and abundance. Fireworks and firecrackers are used heavily in New Year celebrations for their beauty, to announce the coming of a New Year, and to ward off evil spirits.
The first day of the New Year depends on when the new moon rises sometime between January 21 and February 20. In the days leading up to the celebration people prepare by cleaning, shopping, and decorating. The day before the New Year is traditionally celebrated with a large meal eaten with all of the family. During the celebration of the New Year people take care to do things that will bring them luck such as eating certain foods, avoiding certain colors and only speaking positively. Get your children excited about the celebration by reading about it with them. Bringing In The New Year by Grace Lin, Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, And Lanterns by Carolyn Otto and Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-The-Flap Book by Joan Holub are just a few great titles to peak your young ones’ interest. You can also watch this short video on the history of Chinese New Year from the History Channel with your kids.
2. Clean Your House From Top To Bottom
Celebrating the New Year means starting fresh in Chinese culture. Traditionally, people would clean their homes to rid the house of any spirits that may have taken up residence there. It is believed that during this time spirits have to choose between going back to Heaven or staying on Earth. Cleaning to home is a way to assist these spirits on their way. A few days before the New Year is the time to start this very thorough cleaning. However, sweeping is not done few several days after the New Year celebration as it is thought to sweep away the good luck that the papers from the fireworks have brought.
3. Cook A Lucky New Year’s Meal
In order to have a prosperous New Year a special meal is prepared. This meal consists of fish, dumplings, spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes, sweet rice balls, longevity noodles and good fortune fruit.
- Fish. The fish is said to increase prosperity. It can be prepared in a variety of ways but it is important to leave the head and tail intact. When placed on the table the head should always point to an elder or an honored guest. The two people who have the head and tail pointed at them should drink together as a sign of luck. The lucky phrase is “ May you always have more than you need”.
- Chinese dumplings. These dumplings are made with minced meat and finely chopped cabbage and radish wrapped in dough. The amount of dumplings you eat signifies the amount of money you will earn in the New Year. So eat up! Occasionally, one lucky person might find a surprise in one of the dumplings. A white thread is a symbol of longevity. A copper coin would signify wealth.
- Spring rolls. This dish gets its name from the Spring Festival as they are traditionally eaten during this time. The rolls are meat, or veggies, or something sweet wrapped in a thin dough then golden fried. They are meant to symbolize wealth because they look like gold bars.
- Glutinous rice cake. This treat is made with sticky rice, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves. It’s eaten to promote prosperous business.
- Sweet rice balls. These sweet balls of rice are used to promote the closeness of the family.
- Longevity noodles. A symbol of longevity, they are long and uncut when prepared. They may be fried or boiled and served in a broth.
- Good fortune fruit. Oranges, tangerines, and pomelos are considered to bring good luck and wealth.
Nian Gao or sticky cake is baked as a way to curry favor with the Kitchen God before the beginning of the New Year. The Kitchen God is a deity that reports the behavior of the family to Heaven. If the Kitchen God brings a negative report the family will have bad luck during the New Year. This delicious cake is steamed and made with glutinous rice flour, Chinese brown candy, and dried fruit.
5. Decorate Your Home With Lanterns and Lucky Banners
Red paper lanterns are hung in doorways as a way to ward off bad luck. You can find them for purchase on Amazon or you can make your own with construction paper, scissors, and glue. The simple step-by-step instructions can be found at A China Family Adventure. Lucky banners or couplets are vertical banners with good wishes written on them in Chinese characters. They are posted on either side of an entryway. The tradition of Chinese couplets began as a way to scare away evil.
6. Decorate Your Home With New Year Lucky Banners
Lucky banners or Chinese couplets are based on the legend of two guards who presided over the entrance of the spirit world. They would capture the bad ghosts that intended to hurt humans. Now they are used to express happiness and good luck. In the spirit of the celebration they are red and can be seen on both sides of an entryway or as a string of banners around shops and homes. You can make some yourself with string, red construction paper and black markers or paint with instructions at A China Family Adventure or you can purchase some at Amazon.
7. Take A Family Portrait
The Chinese New Year is a time to reunite with family and honor the elders. Many Chinese family use this time to take a family portrait every year. Go ahead and make your own lasting memory. Have fun with it and incorporate some of your festive decorations.
8. Celebrate With Safe Fireworks
The tradition of fireworks was born of the legend that Nian, the wicked beast who terrorized villagers, was scared off by loud noises. Today the fireworks are used to usher in good luck and chase off evil spirits. Check to see if your city is participating in a public display of fireworks. If you choose to celebrate privately make sure you know the regulations your city has in place for your own safety and the safety of others. Be sure to have a fire extinguisher close at hand in case there are any emergencies. Sparklers and confetti poppers are great ways to get yourself and younger children in the spirit without drawing noise complaints.
9. Give Red Envelope Gifts
The origin of the red envelope began about the same time the legend of Nian was shared. In addition to Nian a demon named Sui afflicted children as the lie sleeping. So parents would light a candle and stay awake all night to keep their children safe. One wealthy family gave their child eight coins to play with so he wouldn’t fall asleep. The child wrapped, unwrapped, and rewrapped those coins in red paper until he grew tired and fell asleep. The parents placed the wrapped coins under his pillow and they protected the child from Sui. Today red envelops with money inside are given to elders, parents, employees, and children. Here are a few tips:
- The envelopes should contain new, crisp bills. Do not use coins.
- The amount inside should not add up to have the number four in it. You should avoid quantities in odd amounts as it is unlucky. It’s best to have the amount start or end in eight to enhance luck.
- If the amount inside each envelope differs depending on the person they are intended for use a different design to help you keep track of what you’re giving away.
You can purchase red envelopes online from Amazon.
10. Make A Traditional Chinese Floral Arrangement
The art of Chinese floral arrangement is simple and natural. The technique is practiced in a foundation of beauty, structure, and meaning. You’ll want to avoid symmetry, neat columns and straight lines as they are not often found in nature. On that note, you’ll also want to refrain from tying any ribbon around the arrangement. In Chinese culture different flowers hold different meanings so it is important you select your arrangement for what the flowers symbolize as well as their beauty. These are some of the flowers you may want to incorporate in your display.
- Plum Blossom – These flowers represent courage and endurance.
- Kumquat. The kumquat tree is associated with wealth, prosperity, and good luck.
- Narcissus – A symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
- Bamboo – The strength and rigidity of bamboo earn it the symbol of uprightness.
- Sunflower – This flower signifies a good year ahead.
- Eggplant – This plant is revered as one that heals sickness.
- Chom Mon Plant – This plant brings tranquility.
11. Learn The Happy New Year’s Song
Dive into the spirit of the Chinese New Year by learning how to sing the New Year’s song. In English the lyrics are:
Happy New Year! Happy New Year!
Happy New Year to you all!
We are singing, we are dancing!
Happy New Year to you all!
The refrain is repeated once more and is sung to the tune of ‘Oh, My Darling, Clementine’. Follow this link to learn how to sing the Happy New Year Song in pinyin.
12. Learn Auspicious Chinese New Year Phrases
In Chinese culture it is customary to greet people with well wishes during the Chinese New Year even if they are complete strangers. Have some fun learning these traditional Chinese phrases to bring in the New Year.
The Zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar and assigns an animal to each year. There are twelve animals in total so every twelve years the cycle begins again. Each animal represents characteristics unique to the individuals born in that year. The Chinese Zodiac is somewhat similar to the western ideology of astrology signs. In fact the origin is closely associated with astrology. Ancient Chinese people noted that in one year there are twelve full moons so twelve became a significant number. There are twelve time periods in a day (shi chen), twelve months in a year, and twelve years in a full cycle (ji). The Zodiac can predict how the year will go for the people born under that animal and what they should avoid. The animal signs are the dog, rooster, rat, ox, monkey, snake, rabbit, dragon, horse, sheep and pig. Find out your Chinese Zodiac animal and horoscope here.
14. Attend A Chinese New Year’s Parade
The Chinese New Year’s parade is a spectacular display of color and sound. There are plenty of beautifully elaborate costumes and floats. Many skilled fighters will display their mastery of martial arts. You’re sure to see a lot of dragons as the Chinese believe they are the descendants of dragons. Check your cities event page to find out if they are hosting one near you. If you don’t have an opportunity to see one in person, you can watch one on YouTube.
15. Visit A Chinese Cultural Center
Bring the experience of the celebration of the Chinese New Year of past and present together by visiting a Chinese Cultural Center. There you can see the beauty of the clothing and costumes up close. You and your family will gain additional insight into how the traditions in Chinese culture were established. You may even be able to find someone willing to give you gentle corrections on the New Year phrases you have learned. You might even find more cultural traditions you’ll want to celebrate.
These traditions will help teach your children about Chinese culture and create lasting family memories. Happy New Year!