Of all Chinese holidays, the Chinese New Year is likely the most important and festive—a colorful and elaborate time of family and celebration! The New Year is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar (with the beginning of the New Moon) anywhere from January 21 to February 19. Each Chinese year is represented by a repeated cycle of twelve animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
As part of the Chinese New Year celebration, presents are bought and bestowed, decorations adorn the homes, special foods are made, and new clothing is worn. Days before the holiday, families busily prepare their homes with a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away bad luck and makes the home ready for good luck to enter. All brooms and dustpans are put away on New Year's Eve so good luck cannot be swept away. In many homes, red paint—symbolizing the color of happiness—trims the doors and windowpanes.
The New Year's Eve supper is a gathering of family members and a fantastic feast. The family stays up all night playing board games and cards. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks, which symbolize the sending out of the old year and the welcoming in of the New Year. The Chinese people open all windows and doors in the home to let the old year escape.
Early in the morning, the children greet their parents and receive their New Year gifts: lucky red envelopes (called Laisee) with money inside. The holiday is celebrated for many days, each day devoted to a different tradition. The Festival of the Lantern begins fifteen days after New Year's Day and is celebrated with lantern shows and folk dances. Children display their lanterns in a nighttime parade, where the Chinese welcome the first full moon of the New Year. Chinese New Year customs vary from place to place, but the spirit underlying this diverse celebration is the same: a sincere wish of peace and happiness for all family members and friends.
You don't have to be Chinese to enjoy the spirit of this special holiday! Have some fun and partake in several of these cultural activities to further understand this festive holiday with your children.
Invite your child to paint a white envelope with red tempera paint. Let the envelopes dry until the celebration begins. Parents can place a shiny penny into each envelope as a token of good luck!
Cut circles (eight inches in diameter) from poster board. Next, cut small squares of colorful tissue paper in hues of red. Invite your child to brush the entire circle with white school glue and to place the tissue squares on, overlapping each piece. Decorate both circles, letting each dry thoroughly. Chinese calligraphy is a great way to decorate this fan, especially if the sign represents the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. (You can find samples of Chinese calligraphy and Zodiac characters easily online.)
It's nearly impossible to dine at a Chinese restaurant in the United States without finishing the meal with a fortune cookie. Fortunately these treats with a message can easily be found in stores, too, and are a fun snack for kids during the Chinese New Year. "Make Your Own Fortunes" is an activity to do with your children that is reminiscent of the fortune cookie. Think of fortunes to write on slips of paper, whether serious or silly. Instead of cookies, place these slips into balloons (one for each member of the family). Blow up all the balloons and release them in the air. The kids capture a balloon and break it to release their fortune. This activity ends the festival with a BANG! (Please note, this is an activity for older children, as small pieces of balloons can become a choking hazard.)