Happy Chinese New Year!
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! The new Chinese year, the Year of the Rabbit, begins on February 3, 2011. Chinese New Year is a holiday near and dear to my heart because it was a fun, festive, and grand celebration during my childhood years. Come celebrate this special day with me and my class.
Read on to check out my unit on the Chinese New Year and grab a few free printables to use in your classroom.
Chinese New Year Traditions
Traditionally, Chinese New Year is celebrated over the course of 15 days. Each day has a special significance and focus. Today, most families celebrate for one day. Whether you turn this fun celebration into a day of fun or a two-weeklong gala, the choice is up to you. I love to share my familiy traditions and background with my students over the course of a week or so.
Most of the New Year's celebrations involve spending time with family, remembering your ancestors, and eating special foods. Every year when I was growing up, I remember having a party where our family and friends gathered to give offerings to the Kitchen God and honor our ancestors. Then each unmarried child received a beautiful red envelope with money in it. Children dressed in their new clothes and the house was cleaned from top to bottom.
Red and gold were the dominate colors in the decorations in our household. Red symbolizes happiness, and gold symbolizes prosperity. Flowering plants all around the house symbolized the coming of spring. We went to Chinatown to watch the parade and the dragons dance as the firecrackers popped.
Do you want to know more about Chinese New Year? Here is a great little handout with some Chinese New Year fast facts.
Chinese New Year in the Classroom
I found an awesome clip art dragon mask outline from Copy Cat and used that as the inspiration for the rest of this mask. Children colored their masks with crayons and cut them out. Then we glued the image onto the back of a paper plate and used strips of construction paper to create the mane.
I like to read the book Paper Lanterns to the kids before we make our real lanterns to hang up. This story is about a child named Little Mouse who befriends a master lanternmaker and learns how to make the most magnificent lantern for the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival.
Here are the instructions for the Chinese New Year lantern and banner from Scholastic Printables. Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make a lantern with your class.
After everyone is done creating their masks and lanterns, we have a little parade around our room to festive Chinese drum music that I downloaded. I own a small dragon mask and body like the one that they use in the parades. I found it at the Goodwill for about ten dollars a few years back, and the kids love to see it on the table as we learn about Chinese New Year. I choose two kids to carry the head and body to lead our procession. The kids really get excited to be able to play with it during our mini parade.
I love Discovery Education Streaming for wonderful, content-rich videos to supplement my curriculum, but I also love YouTube and TeacherTube for videos. There are tons of videos on YouTube that feature Chinese New Year celebrations that you can use in your classroom. If your school district prohibits access to YouTube, as mine does, use Zamzar.com. It's free and easy to use. All you have to do is copy and paste the URL into the first box, choose what type of file you want the video converted into, and submit your email address. Zamzar will email you the file, and you have your YouTube video to use at school.
Do you need a low-tech option? I bought a Holidays for Children: Chinese New Year video by Schlessinger Video from eBay for about five bucks. Also on VHS and DVD is the Reading Rainbow episode "Sam and the Lucky Money." Check your local library for them.
Getting money in special red envelopes and eating special New Year's treats were the highlight of my year when I was a child. So to celebrate with my class, I go to my local Asian market to buy food items like New Year's cake, or nian gao, and decorations for the New Year celebration. Nian gao is a sticky sweet rice paste that is dipped in batter and fried in oil. The name of the cake can be defined two different ways, as "happy year" and "sticky paste."
If you don't have a Chinese market near you, there are foods that you can get easily for your celebration. Shrimp in Chinese is ha, which sounds like laughter, so it is believed that eating it on New Year's will bring a year full of happiness and laughter. Other dishes such as candied fruits and nuts are eaten as wishes for a sweet year. Oranges represent prosperity and long noodles represent long life. Fish is also traditionally served because the word "fish" in Chinese sounds like the word for luck and prosperity.
If you don't have one near you, Amazon.com and ReallyGoodStuff.com as well as OrientalTrading.com have items that you can purchase online. You can usually get chopsticks and fortune cookies at your Smart & Final store, if you have them in your state, or a Chinese food restaurant. Here are some easy Chinese New Year food recipes that you can make in your classroom with an electric skillet and a few basic ingredients that you can find in any grocery store.
I also read The Cat and the Rat, which retells the legend of how the animals came to be on the zodiac. This story is a great introduction to the animals of the Chinese zodiac.
In the story the king of heaven calls to all the animals to participate in a great race. The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would all have a year named after them in the zodiac as a prize. The rat tricks the cat, and the cat doesn't make it to the finish line before the twelfth animal. He is so angry at the rat and chases him around. For this reason, cats do not like rats. As a postreading activity, we make a zodiac using this version of the Chinese New Year zodiac from Scholastic Printables.
I hope that you enjoyed learning a little about my cultural background. Thank you for joining me and my class in our Chinese New Year celebration. Come back next week for my post about the 100th Day of School and Valentine's Day.
Happy Chinese New Year and happy teaching,