Lunar New Year has been observed in China for more than four thousand years, starting from ancient celebrations of the end of the long winter season. Because it marks the earth coming back to life and the beginning of the growing cycle, the Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival.
Although modern-day China uses the solar Gregorian calendar, the traditional Chinese calendar follows both the sun AND the moon. Every lunar year begins with the moon cycle that starts between January and February and ends on the full moon 15 days later. So the Lunar New Year in China falls on different dates on the Gregorian calendar, somewhere between January 21 and February 20.
In addition to China, several East Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year, including Vietnam (Tet), Korea (Seollal), Indonesia (Imlek). Similar festivities are held in South Asian countries that follow their own solar calendars. For many people all over the world, this is the celebration of the year.
Specific traditions vary by country and region, but most celebrations center around a special family meal of delicious foods. Lunar New Year traditions also include putting up decorations, parades, performances of dragon dances and lion dances, and the giving of gifts. Many of the traditions are meant to bring good luck. In China, lucky symbols for the New Year include the color red, kumquat trees, fireworks, and the observation of ancient customs.
Typically, Chinese people clean, repaint, and fix broken things BEFORE the first day of the New Year. This ritual is meant to get rid bad luck of the past year and to welcome positive energy for the year to come. Be mindful not sweep ON New Year’s Day because you will sweep away all the good luck!
Here are some creative traditions to share with children to celebrate Lunar New Year:
Feasting with family is at the heart of the Lunar New Year. In certain regions of China, family members gather together on New Year’s Eve to roll, wrap, steam and fry different types of dumplings while enjoying each other’s company. Since their shape is similar to ancient gold purses, dumplings are said to symbolize wealth. Making dumplings is a great activity for kids!
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures that bring power, strength, and good luck, and no Chinese New Year parade is complete without one dancing down the street. It takes about 15 dancers to bring a big dragon to life, holding it high overhead on poles. The team works together to move the fabric in a wave-like motion as if the dragon is swimming through the air. The longer the dragon the more luck it brings. The world’s record was set in Hong Kong in 2012. The dragon was more than 3 miles (4.8 km) long. Try making your own (slightly smaller) dragon. This construction will engage the whole family, especially older kids who love building things.
Red is a joyful color that symbolizes virtue, truth, and sincerity and is thought to frighten away evil spirits and bad fortune. Red New Year decorations include banners, cards, envelopes, and (best of all) lanterns — a popular project that is easy to make with kids. Lanterns come in all sizes and shapes and look beautiful hanging in your house. All you need is red and gold paper to make these beautiful decorations.
Red envelopes given out during Chinese New Year almost always contain money in an even amount. (Most of the red envelopes given in the U.S. have $8 inside, because 8 is considered a lucky number.) Making red envelopes is easy and fun for kids. Fold, cut, glue, and decorate each envelope with a good luck message. Put some coins (real or chocolate) inside and give them away!
As with any holiday, there are special foods associated with the Lunar New Year.Certain savory dishes and delicious desserts are conveived as symbols for happiness and prosperity. Most Lunar New Year desserts are visually pleasing and tastefully sweet to express wishes for sweet new year. While every region (even household) has different dessert customs, in Northern China, nian gao is one of the most popular desserts. The word nian means “year” and gao means “high/tall” so the ritual of making and eating nian goa is meant to increase prosperity!
6. Assemble Lucky Fruits
To create a lucky fruit bowl, start with mandarin oranges. Because the Chinese word for mandarin — kam — sounds similar to the word for “gold,” having mandarin oranges around the home at New Year is said to bring riches into your life. Add a pair of pomelos, as they are symbolic of family unity. Grapes, plums, kumquats, and jujube fruit (a type of date) are said to bring good luck and prosperity. Fruit like this makes a beautiful gift for relatives.
The Bolang Gu, or pellet drum, is a traditional children’s drum used in Chinese ritual music. This drum is double sided with two heads and two pellets on strings connected to the sides. To play it, turn the stick between yourhands so that the two pellets swing back and forth and hit the drum heads. When done correctly, it makes a wonderful rhythmic sound. The drum is very easy to make, even with little kids!
8. Discover Your Zodiac Animal
According to the Chinese Zodiac, each year is symbolized by one of twelve animals. Babies that are born in the lunar year of a certain animal will have characteristics of that animal. The twelve animal signs are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The Year of the Rat begins on January 24th 2020 (the first day of the new lunar year), and the following year will be the Year of the Ox. What lunar year were you born? What animal are you?
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