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Chinese New Year!

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By Caroline Petherbridge — _freelance education writer and designer_

Celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Tiger with an exploration of Chinese culture and customs

chinese-tiger

Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and signifies the time to cast away anything bad from the out-going year and bring good luck for the new year. The start of Chinese New Year changes every year because it is based on the lunar calendar that revolves around the phases of the Moon. It typically falls somewhere between 21 January and 20 February; this year it begins on 14 February. Most families celebrate for roughly two weeks. Taking Chinese New Year as a starting point, the following activities cover learning in subjects such as D&T, literacy and numeracy.

1. From the Rat to the Pig

There are many traditions and symbols associated with Chinese New Year. Every year is assigned an animal name according to a repeating cycle: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Every 12 years, therefore, the same animal will reappear.

According to Chinese legend, the 12 animals quarrelled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was first to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finishing positions. All 12 animals gathered at the riverbank and jumped in. The Rat jumped onto the Ox’s back and as the Ox was about to jump ashore, the Rat jumped off his back and won the race. The Pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the Rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the Ox second and the Pig last.

Like our zodiac signs, each animal has its own distinctive characteristics that are attributed to you if you were born in that year. This year will be the year of the Tiger. The Tiger is said to be courageous and sensitive, but can also be short tempered.

Activity: Spiral tiger art

To welcome the Year of the Tiger, children could make a Chinese tiger picture using sheets of orange, yellow, brown and black felt (see image, above). They should start with a large piece of card and draw a tiger shape onto it. They can fill the outline with 1cm-wide strips of felt rolled up into spirals. This looks particularly effective if they make spirals using more than one colour and include a variety of sizes. The spirals can be kept in place by adding glue to the felt as it is rolled. They can then be glued to the card. Encourage the children to add finishing touches such as claws, teeth and eyes.

Activity: An endangered species

Tigers are one of our most familiar wild animals, appearing in zoos, safari parks, wildlife documentaries and fiction. But, children may be surprised to learn that they are endangered. As a science and literacy link, challenge the children to create a fact sheet on tigers, outlining the different species, the countries they inhabit and so on. They could also find out about what has caused the tiger population to decrease so drastically and research the measures that are currently in place to increase their numbers. The WWF website – www.worldwildlife.org – is a good place to start.

Activity: What animal sign are you?

Ask the children to work out which animal sign corresponds to the year of their birth. Research the characteristics of each animal sign and see if the children think that their sign’s traits are an accurate description of them. (See the table below.)

chinese-new-year-table.jpg

2. A fresh start

Other traditions associated with Chinese New Year include thoroughly cleaning your home, buying new clothes and having a haircut before the first day of the new year. This all signifies having a new start, but you must be careful to have finished all cleaning before New Year’s Day, otherwise you risk accidentally throwing out the good fortune of the new year!

Another popular custom is to decorate your home with signs that have the Chinese word fu written on them – this means ‘luck and happiness’. Decorating your house with flowers is popular because it signifies the coming of spring and a new beginning.

Activity: Blossom trees

Children could make their own trees covered in plum blossom that signifies courage and hope for the year ahead. Start with half a polystyrene ball and paint it brown. Next, take some brown pipe cleaners and cut them into varying lengths. Twist two pipe cleaners together to make them look like branches and then push them into the ball. Next, take some pink tissue paper and cut squares approximately 2cm x 2cm. Place the handle end of a paintbrush into the middle of a square and then twist the tissue paper around the handle. Put a small blob of glue on one of the branches and then press the end of the paintbrush onto the glue – the tissue paper should slide off and stick to the branch. Continue to do this until you have covered your branches.

Activity: Chinese writing

Look at the Chinese symbols for ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘luck and happiness’. Children could try making their own signs for the classroom by writing these symbols using a long-bristled, soft brush and black paint (or ink if they wear protective clothing and cover all surfaces). When writing a Chinese symbol, each stroke must be made confidently and definitely – children will need to practise before creating the final sign, as each symbol is a mini work of art!

3. Symbolic foods

Many of the foods eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year are symbolic. These include dumplings, because they look like golden nuggets; oranges, because the Chinese word for orange sounds like the Chinese word for ‘wealth’, and long noodles, because they signify long life.

Sticky rice cakes and sweets are also served. This is because of a Chinese fable about the Kitchen God whose job it is to report to the Jade Emperor in Heaven on whether families have been good or bad. According to the legend, when families serve the Kitchen God sticky, delicious foods, his mouth gets stuck together and he cannot report any bad things about the family to the Jade Emperor.

Activity: A Chinese banquet

As a grand finale to your Chinese New Year celebrations, prepare a selection of Chinese food for the children to try. You may be able to ask parents or members of your local community to help. Alternatively, visit a Chinese supermarket or restaurant for ideas. (Note: always remember to check if children have any dietary requirements or allergies.)

Reviews

  1. Christine
    on 10 January 2013

    year of snake

    ideas for actitites for pre-school children for year of snake

  2. Patricia Haynes
    on 19 February 2010

    Chinese New year

    Found this very useful for information as to what is done with the flowers at New Year. Thank you.

  3. Carol Jensen
    on 22 January 2010

    Carfts

    I am so glad to find this site! I searched for Chinese New Year images but see this is a site worth so much more.