Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le)!
January 25, 2020 is recognized as the "new year" in the lunar calendar and is celebrated in many Asian countries, making it also known as "Lunar New Year." Although its origin is debated, this holiday has been around for 3,000+ years and has many intricate traditions and festivities attached to it. It is a two-week long celebration that ends with the Lantern Festival fourteen days later. Families sweep out the old year by cleaning the house and bring in the new year by purchasing new clothes and decorating with "fu" signs (see previous blog here). They come together and celebrate by eating round dumplings, signifying wealth and happiness, as well as light (or watch!) firecrackers and enjoy lion and dragon dances! There are endless ways to bring in the new year with fun and festivities!
As an adoptive parent to a child who's birth country is China, it can feel a little daunting to celebrate this special day in a way that honors our children's heritage. However, thanks to the internet and a little creativity, you can easy create a memorable celebration for your whole family!
1. Read a Book
There are so many great lists of children's books about Chinese New Year (here's Amazon's best seller's list ). This year, since it is the beginning of the zodiac animal cycle, I wanted to focus in on what's known as "The Great Race" and found this delightful book by Dawn Casey (see here). This colorful book details the legend of how the order of zodiac animals came to be, when the Jade Emperor called all the animals to race across the river. You have to read the book to find out how the rat, the smallest of all the animals, came in first place! We got this book about a month ago and have read it so often that our kids have it memorized! It will be a treasured story for our family every Chinese New Year!
There are numerous fun worksheets to go along with this book, however we liked this one since it had the Chinese pinyin for each animal, so we could learn their names! My daughter decided to cut out the animals afterwards so she could practice putting the animals in order!
2. Celebrate the Year of the Rat
This year marks the beginning of the zodiac animals and we had fun with some "rat"-tastic coloring pages! I found so many wonderful resources with a quick Google search, but here are some very simple worksheets that even let you practice writing the character for "shu" (rat).
3. Eat Dumplings ("Jiaozi")
No Chinese New Year celebration, big or small, is complete without some delicious dumplings! They are in the shape of ancient money and are eaten as a sign of wishing wealth on each other for the upcoming year. Most families make them together and you can find a great recipe here. True confession, even though I've made them countless times with a sweet (and very patient!) friend when we lived in Asia, with the chaos of this year, we opted for the frozen kind! We find ours at Walmart, Trader Joe's, or sometimes even Aldi! "Jiaozi" is probably one of our family's favorite quick meals and I always keep a few bags in the freezer for a fast (although not terribly healthy!) meal.
4. Give and Receive "Hong Bao" (Red Envelopes)
The highlight of Chinese New Year's for most youngsters is getting a "hong bao"or what we call a "red envelope" or "red pocket." In China, it's tradition to put in money for children, however you can't put in just any amount...it must be an even number and never a four ("si" sounds like "death" in Chinese!). Our thoughtful friends that we celebrated with gave our children hong bao's with cute rats (numerous ones can be found on Amazon!) and they were delighted to find some money inside! They promptly spent it the next day at the Dollar Store! We've filled the red envelopes with chocolate gold coins in the past too.
5. Watch the Lion and Dragon Dances (on Youtube!)
Traditionally, the lion dance scares away the evil spirits for the new year and is performed by two dancers. They can leap from pole to pole and do amazing acrobatic stunts while staying connected in a costume! We watched a few clips on Youtube and be sure to search "lion dance practice" for an insiders look at the dancers practicing without the costume on! You will be amazed at their accuracy and balance!
The dragon dance is formed by numerous people waving a dragon on bamboo sticks, making it look like the dragon is weaving to the pounding of the drums. When we lived in China, we had the privilege of being apart of a dragon dance and were given the honor of holding the dragon's head! Again, there's lots of interesting clips on Youtube and your children will be delighted to watch the colorful dragon slither around!
So here's five super simple activities that require almost no prep...just a printer, some crayons, and maybe some yummy food! We love celebrating Chinese New Year in our family as a way for all of us to connect with our son's birth culture! So, from our family to yours..."Xin Nian Kuai Le!"