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Celebrate the Chinese New Year

Try some nian gao. Have some jiao zi. Why? Because it's Chinese New Year! This important and traditional festival begins with the new moon on the first day of the month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the full moon 15 days later. This is a time of family reunions, mouth-watering feasts and fireworks! So, in celebration, we are bringing you a fun look into the myths, sentiments and practices behind this wonderful festival.

 The mighty Nien

In Chinese mythology, the Nien is a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains. This hungry fellow had a bad reputation for coming out of his hiding place on the first day of the New Year and eating everything and everyone in sight! So, to protect themselves the villagers began leaving food out for the monster. One time, a villager noticed that Nien seemed scared of a little child wearing a red dress. The smart villagers realized that the beast was scared of the color red, and since then every New Year began hanging red lanterns, and scrolls. They also burst firecrackers to make sure that Nien never came back. The Nien is still believed to exist but scattered around mountains.

 The festivities

The 15-days of the Chinese New Year are systematically divided with each day given over to a particular purpose. On the first day, the people welcome the gods of heaven and Earth. On the second day, they pray to their ancestors. But the seventh day is especially interesting because it is considered 'Everybody's Birthday' (known as renri). It is a day for celebrating every human beings birthday with noodles and tossed raw fish salad! The 10th through 12th day is set aside for friends and relatives, and on the 14thday everyone gets busy preparing for the Lantern festival which marks the 15th day of the Chinese New Year and end of celebrations.

 A time for feasting

The best thing about any festival is its food, and the Chinese New Year is no exception. The Chinese load up on food that sound like words for good luck and money. For example:Mandarin oranges are the most popular during this time because their Chinese name sounds like 'gold' or 'wealth'. All the households will keep their tables loaded with sweet and savory foods. They also have something called the “tray of togetherness”, which is a tray filled with assorted auspicious food. Some of the most popular treats are lotus roots (abundance), Gingko nut (representing silver ingots), Black moss seaweed (wealth), nian gao - sweet steamed glutinous rice – and  jiao zi (dumplings that look like gold ingots).

 Celebrating the Chinese New Year in schools

Countries with significant Chinese population will often witness New Year celebrations. Countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have even issued New Year themed stamps. To celebrate this colorful festival in your school, consider these few tips:

  1. A day or two before the New Year discuss the important traditions of the Chinese New Year and engage your class in crafting red envelopes or Chinese lanterns. On the first day of the New Year, gift the children the red envelopes, and decorate the class with the lanterns.
  2. Find out the animal of the Chinese New Year, and learn more about that animal in class.
  3. For older children, make a Chinese tangram puzzle.
  4. Introduce interesting facts about China and its people/ literature/ culture in class.
  5. Buy sweet treats from your local Chinese store and share in class.

Article written on behalf of Annie Besant for Global Kids Oz

Multicultural resources, Indigenous, Maori, Cultural Diversity in childcare, multiculturalism, cultural learning resources