Top tips for using Chinese New Year as a learning tool in the classroom

Published on: 12 January 2023

I Love Chinese New Year author Eva Wong Nava shares some fascinating facts about the Chinese New Year, and some tips on how this can be used in the classroom.

Every year more than a billion people worldwide celebrate a festival that began in China during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE). The Chinese New Year celebration is more than 3,500 years old and it will take place on 22 January in 2023.

The Chinese New Year occurs on a new moon annually between the end of January and mid-February. The first day of the year falls on a different day each year because the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, one that follows the cycle of the moon, unlike the Gregorian one which is a solar calendar. Although the Chinese adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1911, festivals like the new year and mid-Autumn festival are still celebrated according to the lunar calendar.

Name The Animals

Each (lunar) year is presided over by an animal and there are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese disapora, known also as the global majority, will be ringing in the Year of the Rabbit on 22 January. The rabbit is the fourth and the luckiest animal in the zodiac. For the next Year of the Rabbit, we have to wait another twelve years.

Top tip: Ask your upper primary students to work out how old their parents are by finding out what animal year they were born in. Hint: count in multiples of twelves.

In my picture book I Love Chinese New Year, you’ll become acquainted with Mai-Anne, an agile and intelligent six-year-old girl who loves the Chinese New Year because she is proud of her culture and heritage. She was born in the Year of the Monkey. The Monkey crossed the most heavenly of rivers during the Great Race, coming in 9th place.

Top tip: Using the circular chart in the book, get your early year students to name the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac in order. Hint: the Rat crossed the river first.

Can you name the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac?Can you name the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac? Credit: Xin Li

Every Animal has Special Powers

Each animal has their special characteristics, or “powers”. The rabbit is known to be gentle with a high EQ. In China, sometimes family planning is done with these animals in mind. A boy born in the Year of the Dragon is seen to be an obedient and lucky son; a girl born in the Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be a fortunate and happy daughter.

Top tip: Do you know what special powers each animal has and can you name yours?

The dragon is a mythical and powerful animal in European stories, but the Chinese dragon, or Long, has different powers to the European dragon. Of the twelve animals, the Long is the most important (though all animals are important). You’ll see that in my book Nai Nai is the family dragon when she performs the Dragon Dance for the whole family.

Top tip: Do you know what the Long’s powers are? Hint: the answer is in the book.

Other Names for the Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is known by several other names: Spring Festival (specifically in China and Taiwan), Lunar New Year (generally all over the world). In Southeast Asia, where there is a large population of Chinese immigrants, who have been there as early as the 1500s, it is known simply as New Year (新年) in Mandarin, but Chinese New Year in English. The Vietnamese and the Koreans celebrate this festival too and it is called Tết in Vietnam and Seollal in Korea.

Top tip: Do you know why this festival is often referred to as the Lunar New Year? Hint: remember the Chinese calendar.

When Food Takes On a Different Meaning

Mai-Anne has fun taking part in the pre-New Year traditions, like cleaning and decorating her home. Then she waits impatiently for her Nai Nai (her paternal grandmother) to arrive for the most important meal of the year – the Reunion Dinner. It is always on New Year’s Eve, when families reunite to eat. The young and old will stay up way after dinner to ring in the year. There will be firecrackers popping and in some villages, in ancient days, a dragon dance would take place.

Every dish eaten during the Reunion meal is an auspicious dish. There will be fish for abundance, jiaozi (dumplings) for prosperity, a whole chicken for unity, and noodles for longevity. Nai Nai feeds Mai-Anne a special food so she can climb higher and higher to success!

Top tip: If you’re not Chinese but celebrate the Lunar New Year, can you name a special celebration dish that you eat with your family? All cultures have celebration dishes, can you name one from yours?

Seeing Red is Lucky

You’ll see red during the first day of the Chinese New Year since red is the colour of auspiciousness. It symbolises good luck. The Chinese believe that what you give, you get. So in the exchange of red envelopes, known as hongbao (红包), containing money, you’re giving and receiving good luck.

Top tip: Can you find these red envelopes in the book? Try making your own red envelope and decorating it with the colours of the Lunar New Year.

Gold is also a lucky colour because it is the hue of ancient Chinese coins called ingots. Two tangerines or mandarins are exchanged between friends and family during the first day of the year because this fruit symbolises wealth. Take a look at each segment and you’ll see that it resembles an ingot. Look for a gold ingot in the book.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Eva Wong Nava is a child of the Chinese diaspora. She was born in the Year of the Monkey on a tropical island in Southeast Asia. She lives with a Dog, Tiger and Goat in the Land of Albion. She is happy to meet your students and share tales of wonder and adventures with them. Contact Eva for an author visit ([email protected]). Find her here or here

Read our review of I Love Chinese New Year.

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