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Simple & Fun Ways to Celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year decoration

Have your new year resolutions already started to fall by the wayside?  Don't fret! You get a second chance for a new start with the Chinese New Year!

As I write this, the year of the Ox will be here in just 8 days!  This year more than ever, most of us are eager to clear out the old year and welcome the fresh clean start the new year brings. 

One of the most fun things about raising Chinese-speaking kids as a non-ethnically Chinese American for the past six years is that I have gotten to know so many cool new Chinese friends who have taught me a ton about Chinese culture. When asked, almost every Chinese friend has told me that their favorite Chinese holiday is the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. Now that I have gotten to celebrate it several times as well, I can understand why-it is a fun-filled celebration of family, friends, fresh-starts, and, of course, plenty of delicious FOOD.

This is a picture of me at Christine's house on the last Chinese New Year Eve when groups felt comfortable gathering--2019, the Year of the Pig. 

Since we at JoJo believe that it's essential that learning Chinese culture goes hand-in-hand with learning the language, we've put together some easy ways to help your family celebrate CNY like the Chinese do!

New Year's Eve (Thurs, Feb. 11)

1. Clean your home!  除旧迎新 (chú jiù yíng xīn)means  "get rid of the old and welcome the new". Play music while you clean to knock out idea #5 ,"make some noise", too!

2. Decorate your home with plenty of red and gold decorations or images of the new year's zodiac animal (this year, it's the ox). Do some simple red paper cuttings and hang them in the window. Hang couplets & the character 福 (fú) "good fortune" around your entryway. (Note about the character "福": This character is most often hung upside down because, in Chinese, 福倒了 (fú dào le) "falling 'fu'" sounds like 福到了(fú dào le) "'fu' arriving". Also, since, in China, the new year holiday is most often referred to as 春节 (chūn jié) "Spring Festival". The character 春 (chūn) "spring" is also often used in decorations. Try this 3D 春 paper craft. Or make or buy some lanterns.

3. Turn on every light in your home since it symbolizes welcoming a bright new year and chasing away bad luck from the previous year. It may also help you spot some dust that you missed during your cleaning spree!

 

3. Mind your Lucky Numbers: 

  • two: 双喜临门  (shuāng xǐ lín mén) double happiness
  • four:四季发财 (sì jì fā cáimake) a fortune in all four seasons
  • six:六六大顺 (liù liù dà shùn) double six, great fortune
  • eight:八方来财 (bā fāng lái cái)  fortune comes in all eight directions
  • ten: 十全十美 (shí quán shí měi) be perfect in everyway 

4. Give your kids some New Year "pocket money", ideally in a store-bought or homemade  红包 (hóng bāo) red pocket, but, they'll probably forgive you if you just give them cash! When deciding what amount, see the note about auspicious numbers above (ex. $10, $22, $44, etc.)

red evenlope

5. Make some noise! Just this once, encourage your kids to get creative and make a lot of noise. In China, people use firecrackers, drums, etc. The purpose of the noise is to scare away the monster "Nian". If you want to take things to the next level, let the kids use a cardboard box to create a lion or dragon head & a blanket to create a living room lion/dragon dance while you tap out the beat with a wooden spoon on an old pot or stainless steel bowl. Here's a video of a competitive lion dance for inspiration!)

6. Eat special foods:                                                                                          

    Dumplings 饺子 (jiǎo zǐ): Dumplings are probably the first food that most Chinese think of when they think of Chinese New Year. It's possible that the labor-intensive act of making dumplings as a family is also part of the magic since families can spend hours around the kitchen table talking and wrapping dumplings. If you don't have time to make them yourself this year, don't worry. We've found that the Trader Joe's, TargetCostco, and Bibigo frozen dumplings are actually pretty good too! Wondering how many to serve each person? Make sure it is lucky even numbered quantity like those mentioned above! 

                                                                          
    Tang Yuan 汤园 (tāng yuán):  Tang yuan are glutinous rice balls stuffed with a sweet sesame seed or nut filling. Things that are round are auspicious during the new year because they symbolize peace, harmony, unity, and reunion. Similar to the Mardi Gras tradition of finding a baby in a king cake, the Chinese sometimes hide a coin in one of the Tang Yuan and the person who finds it is supposed to be especially lucky in the coming year!  (obviously, you should warn everyone eating about the choking hazard if you decide to try this yourself!)  As you may have guessed, for the most luck, you should also consume tang yuan in even quantities :)  Christine always ate two tang yuan with 1 chopstick in the New Year... symbolizing getting 100 for every test in the New Year!  
                                          
    Noodles: Eating long noodles helps ensure a long life (at least that's what Christine's mom taught me). Just be sure that when you eat noodles during new year or on your birthday, you slurp the noodles all the way up rather than biting to shorten them as this could result in inadvertently abbreviating your time on earth!)     
                                                                                     
    Oranges/Tangerines: The round shape as well as the golden color to symbolize fortune make oranges a lucky fruit to consume during the new year and throughout the year. Bring on the fortune! 
    tangerine and orange for Chinese New Year
    Whole fish: 年年有鱼 (nián nián yǒu yú) "have fish year after year". This saying is probably the main reason why most Chinese like to eat a whole fish during the new year. In Ancient China, similar to other ancient cultures, fishing was a very common profession. Having "fish" year after year equated to a prosperous future. Additionally, this saying is also popular because a Chinese homophone for 鱼 (yú) "fish" is, 余 (yú) "surplus", so modern Chinese associate eating fish at the new year as a wish for continued prosperity in the future.  

    Decorate your "normal" food: Even if you are just eating "normal" food, arrange it into a flower or pattern. Chinese families arrange their dishes beautifully for the Chinese New Year! 

    7. Go big with the Zodiac Animal of the Year. Make the Zodiac Animal a star of your house. This is the year of the Ox. If your children have any stuffed Ox or cows, bring them out. Cut a picture of an Ox and put it on your window. Make Ox crafts and cookies. Here are some of the pigs Christine made for her 2019 Pig Year New Year's celebration (she is much more crafty than I am). The kids loved playing pigs with those DIY pig ears and snouts though! Those pig steam buns were also adorable! If you aren't super crafty or don't have a ton of time, just make do with whatever you have. You may have more cow/ ox items lying around your house than you realize-whether it's your kids' stuffed animals or the wooden cow from a farm or train set. You may, like me (and Christine, and most families who shopped for Chinese resources circa 2014), have an old set of the Uncle Goose wooden Chinese character blocks that you put away in a closet and haven't taken out in ages. Remember that those have each of the zodiac animals on them, so get them out too! Get creative, but don't spoil the fun by stressing out!

    Year of the pig steam bums

    pig ears for year of the pig

    pig ears

    During the New Year  (Feb 12-Feb 26)

    1. Wear red, ideally, new clothes. As you probably know, the color red is considered lucky in Chinese culture, so it's great to start the year off with a lucky start. Additionally, if this year happens to be "your" zodiac animal's year, then you should technically wear something red every day this year to ward off bad luck! You might even receive red underwear as gifts from your close Chinese friends for good luck!
    2. Say only positive things. It's inauspicious to say anything negative during the new year, so parents should resist reprimanding children and everyone should work to prohibit family bickering.
    3. Do things that you want to do more of in the rest of the year (e.g. if you want to "go far" this year or just exercise more, go for a long hike)
    4. Eat more auspicious foods from list above.
    5. Connect with friends and family.

    Lantern Festival (Feb 26)

    1. Eat more Tang Yuan!
    2. Make or buy a lantern, hang it from a stick with a string and let your child to hold and play with it outside under the starry moonlit sky. In the video below, Christine describes how to make a lantern that your kids can actually hold on a stick and take for a walk outside. The red orange glow is perfect for the new year!

      tangerine lantern

      tangerine lantern                                                                                 

      Chinese-American adaptions for celebrating the New Year

      1. Play games that relate to the new year. Here are a few examples: head-to-head competitive games to see who can use chopsticks to transport the most dried beans or marbles from one bowl to another in a limited amount of time, see who can put the zodiac animals in order the quickest, make a pin the tail on the Ox blindfolded game
      2. Read about Chinese New Year in Chinese! Check out this list of our favorite CNY kids books. 
      3. Read a Chinese book every day during the new year celebration. If you'd like, you can participate in our Chinese New Year reading challenge by printing the "March of the Zodiac Animals" Reading Challenge coloring sheet here and coloring an animal for each book you read during the holiday. 
      4. Watch Chinese movies and shows. Although, in China, it is very common for people to watch the Spring Festival Gala, it may be a little hard for most young Chinese learners in the west to follow.  Instead, you may want to check out our list of Chinese Movies about the New Year available on YouTube!

      Here is to a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!  

      Happy eating, happy playing, and happy learning!

       

      Caelyn

        3 comments

        • Thanks for these ideas! My child really got into the idea of making some noise while we were cleaning to help scare away the Nian monster. :)

          Lindsay
        • Wonderful Induction regarding Chinese New Year celebration!

          Chwee Ching
        • Wonderful introduction!

          Mrs Swi Judge

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