Although it is often referred to as the Chinese New Year, many Asian communities celebrate the Lunar New Year in early February. I try to use the term “Lunar New Year” as much as possible, and to explore other, less well-known Asian New Year celebrations. Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, which may feel odd to those of us who follow the Western Gregorian calendar, given that we consider February a winter month. Who celebrates the Lunar New Year? Here’s an incomplete list of the countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year:
- Korea (the New Year is known as Soellal)
- Vietnam (the New Year is known as Tet)
- Japan (the New Year is known mainly as the Spring Festival)
- Many other Asian countries such as Bali, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia
- Chinese communities around the world (e.g., in the U.S., England, France and Australia)
You may or may not already know that the Lunar New Year is China’s largest holiday. I hesitate to compare it to Christmas, but the temptation is there. It’s one way to drive home the importance of the holiday in your students’ minds. Celebrations actually begin on the first full moon of January and the following new moon (in February) marks the New Year. That’s fifteen days of family, food, festivals and fireworks. China Highlights offers a calendar of events for celebrating the holiday and, let’s just say, if you thought Christmas was intense…
And if you haven’t seen how much they put into decorating and celebrating, well…you haven’t lived:
So what are some fun ways to celebrate Lunar New Year with your students? By all means, eat Chinese food, but the easiest and simplest is citrus. Citrus fruits represent wealth and prosperity. My personal favorite is the pomelo. Sweeter than a grapefruit and as large as your head, pomelos are only found in January and February and they’re a buy ’em if you see ’em fruit. The combination of these two facts make them an exotic treat–but, wait! The fun isn’t over yet! Eating the pomelo is an adventure in itself. The peel is about an inch thick and has to be cut with a knife before it can be peeled away. Then the membrane has to be removed to get to the sweet inside pulp.
You might also be delighted to know that a huge part of the Lunar New Year is devoted to cleaning (or, as my students call it, “the “c” word”), so that the year can begin anew. Plus, all the family will be coming over for the New Year’s dinner–and I mean all the family. In fact, by all accounts, holiday travel in China puts the US to shame.
If you’ve ever seen pictures of a Lunar New Year celebration, then you know that there’s no skimping on decorations. This makes for an exciting plethora of activities for the discerning teacher. I started to put together a Pinterest board for Lunar New Year’s activities. Here are some of my favorites:
There’s something incredibly attractive about fans, at least to my students. They make them all the time, out of everything. These are visually stunning and quite simple to make. The only thing I might add is a tongue depressor craft stick to create a handle.
This project is just a picture, but it’s a dragon image built around a piece of yarn glued to black construction paper. Dragons are popular in Chinese folklore and one of the highlights of the New Year’s parade is the Dragon Dance. I love that this project builds organically around a single piece of yarn, but also that it’s kind of like a doodle. Last summer I bought a set of pastel pencils that would work wonderfully for this project.
Be prepared for a lot of noise with this one–but that’s precisely why the students will love it. Incidentally, once you’ve checked out this project, explore the rest of Kid World Citizen for some other fun cultural activities for children. Becky has ideas for countries all over the map.
It sometimes feels as though I have been saving toilet paper rolls since the beginning of time (along with egg and milk cartons–don’t ask), so it’ll come as no surprise that I compulsively pin projects involving them. This is one of the more attractive projects I’ve run across lately, and one I’d probably keep hanging around the classroom or even my house. Please note that it’s a Japanese project, though, and not Chinese, if you’re looking to be strict to one cultural group.
Cutting work is a common part of practical life in Montessori classrooms. The Advanced Cutting Templates that I got from Montessori Services include one for a Chinese Lantern. I like to put it out at this time of year, allowing the students an opportunity to make these deceptively challenging paper lanterns. They look easy, but can cause frustration at the drop of the hat since they have to be made and cut in just the right way. It’s an exercise in following directions, which I love. I like the idea of jazzing up the lanterns with a little yellow paint and some cookie cutters. Heck, I like the idea of jazzing up anything.
Writing in Chinese is almost an art form in itself. I love the way these worksheets divide the writing area into four quadrants, and help the students to create the characters step-by-step. I’ll definitely be printing a few of these free worksheets for my classroom this year.
Last, but not least, don’t neglect the Chinese Zodiac. If your class is anything like mine, it’ll make for some interesting play at lunch recess, involving a variety of animals. At any rate…