red envelopesThis is such a fun holiday and noted as the most important for many Asian cultures. The Chinese calendar is lunar, so Chinese New year falls on a different day somewhere between the end of January and February every year. This year it is on Thursday the 6th. Why not celebrate with your family? After all, this holiday is all about family–spending time with those around and honoring those who have gone before. It is a complex 15 day celebration with many traditions and lots of symbolism. (i.e. this is just a brief and limited overview. Check here for more info.) Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith or The Dancing Dragon by Marcia K. Vaughan are a couple of books you can check out to read with your child.

Chinese myth tells of a dragon, the Nián who came from either the mountains or the sea (depending on region) to eat men (yikes!) once a year. The people decorate with lots of red and use lanterns and fireworks to scare the Nian away. There are also several flowers that are used with different symbolic meanings. Bowls of tangerines (symbolic of good luck) and oranges (represent wealth) are also very common.

People spend the weeks before New Years getting ready, by buying new clothes and getting a hair cut for the celebrations. They also clean their house, sweeping away the old (literally) to prepare for the new. (However, you must put your broom away for the new year so that you don’t sweep out all of your good luck!) One of the most important customs is a special feast that is also very symbolic. You can get several good recipes here.

After the feast, people visit the temple or hold a party to countdown to the New Year. The first day of the new year is spent visiting family, and especially the senior members, like grandparents. Older andlion dancers married members of the family give the youth red envelopes (which contain money) and celebrate with fireworks and lion dancers.

(I will post directions to make a lantern and your own dancing lion tomorrow.)