By Amy Suski
Each year our daughter comes home from school with colorful paper lanterns, hong bao (little red envelopes fulled with money to symbolize wealth and prosperity), and a Chinese greeting she's learned from her teachers. This year I vowed to go beyond what I've learned from preschool and Kai-Lan reruns and do a little research about the Chinese New Year celebration, local events, and ways we could learn about the traditions at home too. (But for the record, Nick Jr.'s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan website is a fine place to start: preschoolers will really enjoy the colorful printables, cooking projects, crafts, and games.)
What I learned is that Chinese New Year (a.k.a. the "Lunar New Year" or "Spring Festival") is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar and has some inspiring traditions. The celebration starts on the first day of the lunar month and this year the Chinese New Year officially starts on February 19, 2015. During the celebration friends and families feast, celebrate and give each other gifts. Sounds good to me! But the new year is also about renewal, which in the dead of winter is a welcome endeavor. For ways to get your family in the spirit, read on!
Dabble in Feng Shui
To prepare for the New Year it is customary for families to clear out any bad luck from the previous year and get ready to welcome good luck in the new year by embarking on a complete house cleaning. (Hmmm. I might need some help with that one.) Decorating the house with colorful decorations and flowers also helps to celebrate the coming of spring and a new beginning. (That I can definitely do.)
Find Your Sign
The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year cycle with each year named after one of the animals that joined the Jade Emperor (or Buddha) at the new year celebration. According to chinesezodiac.com, I am a Dog, a sign which embodies admirable traits such as loyalty, kindness, and -- less attractively -- nosiness. Did you have a baby in 2014? Congratulations! He/she was born in the year of the Horse and is said to be strong, energetic, and outgoing. 2015 welcomes in the year of the Sheep (or Goat) and according to the Chinese zodiac, Goat/Sheep babies born this year will be creative, intelligent, dependable, and calm. (Lucky mamas!) For fun, you can show your children which animals and traits are associated with their birth year. To get a better look at the moon and stars firsthand, consider Stargazing at the Public Observatory on February 26 (8:30 pm to 10:00 pm).
Tip Junkie has some great craft ideas for kids, ideas for decorating the home, and colorful paper lanterns (pictured at top) that are easy to make. And although fortune cookies are really an American restaurant creation, I love the fortune cookie placecards and party ideas posted on the Indulge Party Blog. For older children who want to try their hand at Chinese writing, the china-family-adventure website has some good worksheets, guides and activities.
Of course, food is an important part of the celebration and its a great excuse to have a big family meal including dumplings, oranges, noodles, sticky rice, and sweets. For inspiration, The Daily Candy has some recipes and pretty ideas for setting the table for a new year celebration. If you're short on time, there are plenty of fantastic Chinese restaurants in the area, many of which will deliver or provide carry-out. (How convenient is that??) Our kids particularly like dumplings, anything on a stick, noodles and the spring rolls. They consider all of these items "finger food" but if you'd like tips on buying or making your own "training chopsticks" for children, visit lunchinabox.net.
Dance with the Dragon
When I think of Chinese New Year, the first thing that I think of is the colorful parade with lion and dragon dancers. Although fireworks and fireworks are also traditional, for safety reasons they aren't usually a part of downtown celebrations. But you and your children will still get a big bang out of these lively local celebrations with music, crafts, demonstrations, food, and dancing. In addition to the events featured below, many local schools, community centers and libraries host dragon dancers, storytimes, and crafts for children, so be sure to check out those as well!
The 8th Annual Chinese New Year Festival in Falls Church, Virginia, will be on February 14, 2015 at Luther Jackson Middle School. This popular community festival features fun games, performances, exhibits and a parade.
Ring in the Year of the Sheep at one of the area's largest Chinese New Year celebrations at the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia, February 21 & 22, 1:00-5:00 pm. The celebrations feature traditional Chinese dragon dances, performances, martial arts demonstrations, crafts, displays, and a special lantern festival.
On the weekends of February 21-22 and February 28-March 1, the Lakeforest Mall in Montgomery County, Maryland, will celebrate the Lunar New Year with free live entertainment, lion dances, special events and hands-on-activities.
The Smithsonian's Freer/Sackler Galleries in D.C. boast one of the finest museum collections of Chinese art outside of China, with over 10,000 objects dating from Neolithic times to the present. Highlights include a rich collection of jade objects, Buddist sculpture, fine porcelain and ceramic pieces, calligraphy, world-class paintings, and one of the world's best collections of ancient metalwork, including weaponry from the Shang and Zhou dynasties that is sure to impress your littlest warriors. A visit to the Freer/Sackler is a good idea any time of the year, but families can also enjoy a full day of free festivities at the Freer/Sackler Lunar New Year Celebration on February 21, 11:00 am - 4:00 pm. Special planned activities include crafts, picture book readings, family-friendly gallery tours, and a cooking demonstration.
The annual Chinatown Parade celebrates the Chinese New Year with dragon dancers, martial arts demonstrations, and musical performances. The parade travels on H Street, NW, between 6th and 8th Streets. Because of the crowds, the best way to get to the parade is by Metro (the closest station is Gallery Place/Chinatown).
In Baltimore, Port Discovery's Children Museum welcomes families to celebrate the Year of the Sheep with special performances, cooking, crafts and activities including Chinese Lion Dancers, Chinese New Year Circle Time, A Taste of China from PF Changs, Calligraphy and Chopstick Training, Festive Dragons, and more. Activities are included with regard admission fee. The event is scheduled for February 14, 2015, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For your Calendar: Every March, the Air and Space Museum in D.C. hosts a beautiful display of diverse kites from across Asia. At this free event, kids can learn more about how kites are made in hands-on-stations. The National Air and Space Museum's Kites of Asia Family Day, will be held on March 21, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Now is also the time to get your 2015 tickets for the legendary Shen Yun Performing Arts World Tour, performing nationwide. Tickets are pricey ($50-$250), but the performance is said to be phenomenal.
For More Events: check out My Asian Kid - DC, a great online resource for families who have adopted children from Asia or are simply interested in Chinese culture.
Curl up with a Good Book
Finally, since paper was invented in China, what better way to end the day than to curl up with your little ones for storytime? Although much fuss has been made of Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," your children will thank you a thousand times if instead you reach for some kinder, gentler picture books celebrating the Chinese New Year. For some great children's book options check out your local library or the reading list put together by InCultureParent.
Want to learn more? The Chinatown Community Cultural Center has a 3,000 square foot gallery celebrating Chinese art and culture, offers walking tours of Chinatown, and gives classes (some of them for free) in Tai Chi and Kung Fu, Chinese Caligraphy, Chinese Language, Ping Pong, and Chinese Brush Painting.
Happy New Year!
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