One fun thing about teaching homeschool geography is I have an excuse every year to learn more about Chinese New Year, and put together a Chinese New Year unit.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in Austin
We are very lucky to have a fairly large ex-pat community here in Austin. Though most are not from China proper, I think we have a larger Korean community, than Chinese, the celebrations here are quite big and crowded.
Lion Dancers and Chinese New Year
I learned last year the lion dancers are there to bring good luck. In China, lion dancers would come and dance at your restaurant, home, or business and there would be rival gangs trying to show the best acrobatics they could. The group with the best acrobatics would earn the fee. When I did some research I found out this became quite a big deal and rival lion dancers would even try to hobble the other group. It was fascinating material.
At each location the lion dancers go to during Chinese New Year the lion eats lettuce to symbolize money and the wish for prosperity in the new year (I wonder if this is a more recent tradition). Inside of the lettuce would be the tip for the lion dancers (or at least at our festival it was that way).
Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year (Reading Rainbow Books)– Follow 6-year-old Ernie as he prepares to do his first ever lion dance for the new year.
A good follow on activity to go with this is to make Chinese Dragon puppets (they are not exactly the same as lion dancers, but quite similar, and your kids will love them)
Quick insert from Future Ticia 2024
I wrote a Chinese New Year booklist, and wanted to make sure you knew all about it. I’ll need to come back and update the rest of this post later.
Fireworks and Chinese New Year
In China, the fireworks are used to drive away evil spirits. Here in Austin, they were used as a fun loud noise as the blackcats of the fireworks went bang bang bang. The fireworks were set off after the lion had danced all around their store.
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns– This is a traditional look at how Chinese New Year is celebrated. The pictures are bright and colorful just as you would expect from a National Geographic book
A good follow on activity to go with this would be to make fireworks (art, not real ones): sharpie fireworks
Red Envelopes and Chinese New Year
As a kid, one of the men my Dad worked with was from Hong Kong, and he sometimes gave us red envelopes with a little bit of money in them for Chinese New Year.
Obviously, as a young child with no income other than the occasional lost tooth, this was an amazing windfall.
This was believed to suppress the evil in children and keep them healthy and happy for the new year. It certainly made me happy.
Paper Crafts for Chinese New Year– our library didn’t have any books specifically mentioning this tradition, but it did have this fun crafting book, so I figured I’d mention this. I always like paper crafts because at the end I can recycle them and not feel guilty, and the materials don’t cost as much to get together.
Pussy willows and Chinese New Year
This was a completely new tradition to me, but the flower shop was handing out pussy willow branches to plant. I looked it up when I went home, on these plants and Chinese New Year, and found out pussy willows are a sign of growth and coming prosperity.
Parties and Chinese New Year
Traditionally in China, they will put up booths in the streets and create an open market for Chinese New Year. While they didn’t have exactly that here, we did get a similar experience. They created a street carnival with bouncy houses, rock climbing walls, a mechanical bull, and lots of fun activities. It was lots of fun to try.
More Chinese New Year Resources
A year or so ago I put together a list of great China resources if you choose to do a China study as part of your Chinese New Year.
Otherwise, check out these great posts: