Though we just celebrated the New Year less than two months ago, people around the world are preparing for another new year celebration. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival and Lunar New Year, is based on the phases of the moon, and falls in either January or February of the Gregorian calendar. Chinese New Year is considered the most important holiday of the year in many Asian countries – not just China. For two or more weeks, businesses will close, shopkeepers board up their shops, and families gather at their ancestral homes to carry out traditions and “clean the slate” for the new year.
Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Dog
Following ancient Chinese tradition (often said to have originated in Taoism), each year honors one animal of the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese Zodiac includes a 12-year rotation of animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Similar to the astrological zodiac, Chinese tradition assigns each person an animal, determined by their birth year. Also like the astrological zodiac, each animal is associated with particular personality traits and horoscopes.
This year, 2018, is the year of the dog (in Mandarin: gou 狗). “Dog people’ are said to be loyal, honest, and patient. However, they can also be stubborn, poor at communication, and easily tricked. Sounds like someone you know? Maybe they were born in a dog year. You can check here, and maybe find out what animal you are, too.
- Build a LEGO® dog - building is a great, open-ended listening activity.
- Complete this Chinese zodiac wheel (instant download).
- Did you know tangrams originated in China? Make a set (instant download) for yourself, and see if you can create all the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Beginners can copy designs with the shapes easily defined, while experts can puzzle out creations using only the outline. BONUS: Not only is this a fun listening activity, it's also a STEAM activity that helps with geometry, spatial reasoning, logic, problem solving, and imagination!
Asian cultures have many traditions and superstitions. Superstitions related to the zodiac and specifically for Chinese New Year typically involve behaviors intended to ward off mischievous spirits. For example, because 2018 is a dog year, people born in previous dog years are encouraged to wear shades of red, because evil spirits look for representatives of the honored animal and fear the color red.
Many traditions are intended to help people start the new year on a positive note, while helping to clear away any lingering “bad vibes” or “evil spirits” of the outgoing year. Of course, every family’s traditions vary but some of the more common ones are listed below.
- Cleaning house – People might spend up to a week before Chinese New Year doing a deep clean of their houses. Besides the obvious practical reasons for doing this, it is believed that this full cleaning sweeps away evil spirits. In past times, this tradition may have helped to prevent the spread of disease and germination of bacteria.
- Sharing a family feast – Superstition deems many foods “lucky” to make, serve, and enjoy for Chinese New Year. Dumplings are made because their shape is reminiscent of traditional money pouches. Another new year’s feast staple dish is noodles or yi mein (伊面). There are many recipes, but the main idea is to eat long noodles which symbolize long life. Just be sure not to cut them!
- Exchanging tokens of good fortune – Around Chinese New Year, Asian grocery stores stock varieties of tangerines; especially ones with the stems and leaves still attached. This is because the word for tangerine is a homophone for the word for gold in Mandarin. Another widely practiced tradition is that of older family members giving red envelopes, called hong bao (紅包) to younger generations. These lucky envelopes symbolize the passing down of prosperity to younger family members. Many hong bao are sold imprinted with messages of good fortune or for specific hopes, like these wishing the receiver good health.
Look no further for fun and educational activities to celebrate and learn about Chinese New Year. Start by searching your wardrobe for red clothes – even if you weren’t born in a dog year, red is considered an auspicious color for everyone at new year and other big celebrations.
- Try your hand at making some homemade dumplings!
- Print and make your own hong bao. Traditionally filled with money and handed out by older generations to younger relatives (grandparents to grandchildren, for example), you can fill these with good luck wishes or even chocolate coins.
- Make some little lucky stars (instant download) to wish your friends and family a happy new year, or write your hopes and wishes for the coming year on each and keep them by your bed to help them come true.
Ting Hao! 听好! (Listen well!)
Here are some titles to accompany all your Lunar New Year activities. Remember it's the year of the dog, so it's a good idea to put on some dog stories too!