A little more than a month after most New Year celebrations end comes Chinese New Year, a fantastic opportunity to teach your children about Chinese culture and recommit to all the great intentions with which you started 2011.
Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world in countries with large Chinese populations and those with a significant shared cultural heritage. Indonesia, Malaysia, Chinatowns in North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as Korea, Vietnam, and Japan all celebrate the festival that begins on February 3 this year.
With its focus on family, good fortune, health, and happiness, Chinese New Year has many elements parents can adapt for their children.
For example, families in China prepare for the new year by thoroughly cleaning their homes in order to remove bad luck and make way for good fortune. However, they believe that it is very important that no one sweeps during the first few days of the new year because cleaning will remove the good luck once the new year begins.
Homes are decorated in red, the luckiest color, and adorned with intricate Chinese paper cuts. By putting up Chinese New Year decorations, you’re getting a head start on Valentine’s Day, which also incorporates red decorations.
Family visits are an important part of New Year celebrations and people usually buy new clothes. Your family can adapt this custom by planning a visit to an elderly neighbor or relative. They’ll be happy to see you whether you’re wearing new clothes or not!
Like most holidays around the world, food is a big part of the celebration. Throughout the holiday, families will share meals that include dumplings, fish, duck, chicken, noodles, and sweets.
Preparing the dumplings, in particular, is a family activity. Parents, grandparents, and children work together to prepare enough dumplings for the feast. Extended family and friends are invited so families have to be ready to feed a large crowd.
On the morning of the new year, children wish their parents health and happiness. In return, they are presented with leisee, money in red envelopes decorated with gold to signify wealth. Children also are given oranges. The Chinese name for “orange” sounds the same as the word for luck or fortune.
Families cap off activities by setting off fireworks and some towns organize parades complete with lifelike dragons and lions. One of the most famous parades outside of China takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
One final element of the holiday is forgiveness. People are urged to reconcile with each other and welcome the new year in with peace. That is especially fitting in 2011 as the ferocious and volatile Year of the Tiger gives way to the easy prosperity and peaceful negotiation of the Year of the Hare.
Although Chinese New Year celebrations last for more than two weeks, you can be a lot less ambitious with your activities. Sharing a special dinner, cleaning the house together, or making some special decorations are all you really need to do to give your family a flavor of the holiday and teach them about Chinese culture. Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!