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Chinese Culture >> Chinese New Year

2008 Year of the Rat

February 7, 2008 -- The Year of the Rat. For many people, Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration of the year. It is a time of celebration, eating special foods, cleaning and decorating the house, giving gifts, fireworks, and getting ready for the coming year. The color red is believed to be lucky, so people traditionally wear red clothes and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals. Festivities usually end with the lantern festival, highlighted by a dragon dance. With your children, ring in the New Year with the following fun Chinese New Year activities

Chinese New Year Dragon
The dragon symbolizes strength, goodness, and good luck. Help your child make a simple dragon. Use an egg carton with three cups and have children paint the cups with red and yellow colors. Draw a dragon face shape and decorate with cotton balls and wiggly eyes. Cut yarn into small pieces and glue to the back of the dragon. Glue pom-poms to the bottom of the egg carton cups to make legs. Have children perform their own dragon dances as they parade around together.

Chinese Lantern Craft
Paint a paper plate red and cut out a circle in the middle. Take clear contact paper and cut a circle to fit inside the paper plate and tape to the back. Tear red and yellow tissue paper into small pieces and place on the sticky side of contact paper. Cut two rectangles out of red craft paper and glue to the bottom and top of lantern. Make a tassel out of yellow yarn and glue to the bottom of lantern.

The Chinese Calendar Craft and Activities
Explain to children that the Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. Each year in a cycle is named after an animal. Legend says that Buddha invited all the animals to join him for a New Year's celebration but only 12 showed up. They argued about who was to head the cycle of years, so Buddha held a race--whoever first reached the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish. The race began, but unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, finished last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle and the pig is the last. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a strong influence on that person's personality. Have children make their own Chinese calendar by using our patterns. Let them find their zodiac sign and see if the characteristics match their personality.

Lai-See Envelope
One of the most popular activities observed on Chinese New Year is the custom of Hong Bao, or the giving of small red (the color red is thought to bring good fortune) envelopes filled with "lucky money" to children by adults. To make your own red (lai see) envelope, trace our envelope pattern on red paper and assemble. Cut the end of a drinking straw to a point to make a quill. Have children write some Chinese letters with the quill on the front of the envelope. Add a line of glue to the outer edge of the envelope and sprinkle gold glitter on it. Shake off excess glitter. Add a coin to the inside of the envelope and seal flap with tape.

Cleaning and Decorating the House
A common Chinese New Year activity is to clean and decorate the house. It is believed that cleaning the house helps sweep away any bad luck that may have accumulated over the past year. Encourage children to help you clean and tidy the house--dust all the corners, wash the windows, and sweep the rooms. Remember though, that sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day because good fortune might be swept away! To decorate, help your children make paper curls. On the curls, write special messages like "good fortune," "good health," and "long life," and then hang them around the house. Make and hang paper lanterns. Fill the house with fresh blooms and flowering plants.

Serve children oranges and tangerines during Chinese New Year as they symbolize wealth and good luck. Some other lucky foods are noodles which represent a long life, clams and spring rolls which denote wealth, and sticky rice cakes which symbolize a rich, sweet life and abundance for the coming year. .

About the Author

Jolanda Garcia is a former teacher and educational content designer. Her goal is to provide parents and teachers with quality resources to promote their children's health, development, and creativity. Visit her websites at: Preschool activities and crafts, and