A super important part of educating your students is to open them up to different cultural and social experiences, and what better way to do that than by celebrating an international holiday! Not only does this make for more diverse lessons, but it gives every student the same chance to celebrate their cultural traditions – and who doesn’t love a reason for hosting fun activities!
So this year, why not incorporate some traditional Lunar New Year celebrations into your lesson plan to give all your students insight into facets of Asian heritage and Chinese culture.
Firstly, let’s take a look at what Lunar New Year—also referred to regionally as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival—is.
What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, and many other Asian countries, making it one of the world’s most prominent and celebrated holidays. The first day of the Lunar New Year changes based on the lunar calendar, but usually falls between the winter solstice (Dongzhi) and spring’s beginning (Lichun) – typically around 21st January to 20th February each year. It’s not a religious festival, but Chinese heritage is celebrated by all Chinese regardless of their religion.
The celebration themselves are huge and can last anywhere from a week to 15 days! Considering its significance, the official public holiday is seven days long, but in some rural areas, it can go for the whole 15-day period.
Simple things to know
For your students who celebrate Lunar New Year, and their families, this is the most exciting time of the year. Being a New Year celebration, this is when celebrants welcome the God of Wealth (Cai Shen Ye) and spread wishes of prosperity – Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Gong Xi Fa Cai’s direct translation is “Wish You Get Rich”.
Each year is represented by one of twelve Chinese zodiac animal signs, matched with one of five elements: gold, water, wood, fire, or earth. Read more about each zodiac and their meanings here.
You don’t need to celebrate the Lunar New year to recognize the Red Packet. Young children will normally receive these red envelopes from their older family members and inside there’s money, aka their pocket money!
Dragons also have a special place in Chinese tradition; throughout celebrations, firey Chinese dragon dances and parades are held down streets and in squares to the beat of drums.
Prepping for this time of year includes a thorough spring clean around the house to rid any “bad luck” accumulated throughout the year. And on the eve of Lunar New Year, families will end the night with firecrackers to ward off any evil spirits (Nian).
It wouldn’t be a celebration without delicious traditional delicacies. So, before the firecrackers on New Year’s Eve, families sit down for an enormous feast filled with dumplings, spring rolls, noodles, and sweet treats!
On the 15th day of the first lunar month (two weeks after Chinese New Year) the Chinese Lantern Festival is celebrated. It marks the first full moon of the new lunar year and the end of the New Year (Spring Festival) period.
But this time is more than just feasting, firecrackers, and fierce dragon displays. Above all, it honors the connection between heaven and earth, ancestors, family, and thanksgiving. It’s also a time to reconcile and wish peace, good fortune, and happiness for everyone!
Celebrating with students
Since celebrations can differ between regions, why not start by asking your students how they celebrate, and to bring in a photo or family object that relates to their traditions. Once you’ve collected these special items, you can record a show and tell (in English or their first language) to play back to students, parents, or visitors.
Fill your class with decorations crafted by your students. This could include dragon puppets, drawing worksheets, coloring pages, paper lanterns, and garlands – with plenty of red! Your craft session could include making red envelopes – get your students to pull the name of another student from a hat and write a New Year wish to them in the envelope; just like a Secret Santa game!
Depending on your class, you could also host your own shared lunch and get each student to bring in a simple dish to celebrate. If sharing food isn’t an option, you could brainstorm your class’s dream feast and assign homework to cook one of the dishes with their family!
This is also a chance to discuss the other end of the celebrations – cultural stereotyping. So, if your class is open to the topic, chat through how easy it is to pass judgments on cultural practices simply because they are different or unfamiliar. And if any students have any questions or comments about the traditions, open the room up for discussion and always make sure there is positivity and understanding present throughout. To end on a positive note, ask your students to write down all the new things they’ve learned about Lunar New Year, and what their favorite part is!
Taking the time to acknowledge these important holidays with classroom activities shows your students that they matter, they’re appreciated, and they add culture and value. These occasions can often leave international students feeling homesick, so by hosting Lunar New Year celebrations, you’ll be creating a sense of community that’ll help lift any low spirits!
Good luck, and happy year of the tiger!