Today’s post is from Josianne Fitzgerald. Josianne is an elementary school librarian at an international school in China.
Preparing for Chinese New Year
by Josianne Fitzgerald
Want to get ready for the Chinese New Year? The preparations have started in China and everywhere there are Chinese people. As the number 8 is considered lucky in China, here are 8 activities you can do before Chinese New Year’s Day on January 31, 2014.
1. Sweep away the bad luck from last year. Clean your house or classroom and pay special attention to corners. You don’t want any of last year’s luck to hang around in the new year!
2. New clothes. Chinese New Year is the most important festival in Chinese culture. This is an occasion to dress up. Choose red clothes for good fortune. Get your hair cut too before the New Year because you don’t want to cut your good luck during Spring Festival!
3. Decorate! Traditional decorations include lucky fu papers. These are red squares with Chinese characters for fortune, prosperity and happiness painted in black or gold.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum has a great museum guide to their Chinese New Year Portable Collection. You can download it here.
Find the fu character on page 25. All you need is a red square of paper, rotated so that it is a diamond, black ink and a medium paint brush. For an authentic calligraphy hold your brush vertically. Tip: practice a lot on newspaper first.
Once your fu paper is ready, pin it upside down on a door. When you turn the character for fu upside down, it becomes the character for arrival, making the fu paper say, “Luck arrives here!”
Other decorations include kumquat trees and plum blossoms.
Kumquats are symbols of prosperity, as the word means gold orange. Chinese families often give kumquat trees at the Spring Festival, but if you don’t have a kumquat tree, pile oranges or tangerines in a bowl to make a pyramid of prosperity symbols.
Plum blossom sprigs are popular and so beautiful. Activity Village from the UK has a lovely plum blossom craft out of crepe paper and chenille stems.
4. Chinese Zodiac. Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of a new lunar year. Each year in a 12-year cycle is named for an animal. Some believe that the zodiac animal for the year of your birth has an influence on your personality.
What is your Chinese zodiac animal? It will depend on the year of your birth. Calculate your Chinese zodiac sign here.
The legends say that Chinese zodiac animals were chosen by the Jade Emperor when ordered them to appear to feature in his newly created calendar. He picked the first twelve to arrive and the zodiac features them in their order of arrival. The first one was the rat, who tricked his friend the cat and left him behind.
The book, What the Rat Told Me, by Marie Sellers, Catherine Louis and Wang Fei, tells an adaptation of that story. The best part of that book are the block print illustrations. You could photocopy those and cut out to use for puppets to act out the story.
Children receive “hong baos” (red envelopes) filled with money at Spring Festival. Sometimes those hong baos can add up! Make hong boas out of red paper using the template in the Brooklyn Museum guide, and draw the lucky character fu on them. Fill the hong baos with candy or gold foil chocolate coins.
6. More decorations – Rhyming couplets. Called “chun lian,” rhyming couplets are written on tall strips of red paper and posted on doorways. See here for examples.
You could write your own rhyming couplets in English and on red paper, or use Google Translate to print them out in Chinese characters. Use your chun lian in a greeting card or an e-card. One site that offers free greeting cards is Travel China Guide.com. If you make your own greeting cards, don’t forget to use red paper and black or gold ink.
If you like Chinese calligraphy, this site has easy templates for writing “Happy New Year” in characters.
7. Parade. Many cities in the United States with large ethnic Chinese populations hold parades to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Click here for details on the celebration in San Francisco, and here for New York City.
Can’t get to a traditional parade? Host your own! Dress in red clothes, carry cymbals, dragon puppets (download template from Enchanted Learning.) You’ll need firecrackers too, but those can be made by covering toilet paper rolls with red paper and painting Chinese characters or zodiac animals. Here is an example from Activity Village in the UK.
A Chinese New Year Celebration must be loud, so before you cover the paper rolls as explained in the above link, cut out lids for the rolls so that you can fill them with a small amount of rice or beans. Tape the lids in place, cover the rolls with red paper, then paint Chinese characters like fu or zodiac animals in black or gold ink. These can then be used as shakers to frighten off the bad spirits and the bad luck from last year.
8. Feast. On the eve of Chinese New Year families get together to eat lucky foods and family favorites.
Dumplings – some say that dumplings, also called potstickers, look like gold ingots. My friends in northern China say that they look like ears instead and if you eat lots of them, your ears won’t freeze and fall off during the cold winter nights. Unfortunately, in the north of China, there will still be two more months of winter after the Spring Festival, so we eat lots of dumplings! Here is a recipe for dumplings from Nick Jr.
Long-life noodles – You should not cut noodles on your Spring Festival feast because that would mean you’re cutting your luck. Use chopsticks if you can, but keep the bowl close to your mouth! Here’s a recipe by Ken Hom from BBC.com. You could use ramen cup noodles if you’d like an inexpensive alternative.
Fish – in Chinese, the word for fish “yu” rhymes with the word for prosperity “fu”. To make it an even more auspicious meal, fish is also a symbol of abundance. For the feast, Chinese families often steam a whole fish and flavor it with garlic, scallions, soy sauce and ginger. Yummy and very auspicious! Here is a recipe by Pat Alburey from Readers’ Digest.
For dessert, PBS.org has easy kid-friendly recipes here. I particularly like the candied fruit treats. We call them “tang hu lu” in northern China. They are so yummy. I like them with little crab apples, but you can make them with any type of firm fruit.
Too much for you? Get ready virtually with this online game from Nick Jr with Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese cat from the Amy Tan picture book, The Chinese Siamese Cat.
Big thanks for all your wonderful information Josianne!
Xīn nián kuài lè!
Happy Chinese New Year!