Chinese New Year is an important Chinese festival celebrated around the world, not only in Asian countries, but in many countries where there is a large population of Chinese people or their descendants, including Australia. Maybe it is celebrated where you are too.
This week I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Mabel Kwong, a writer and Chinese Australian. Mabel explores and writes about the topics of multiculturalism, cultural diversity and identities. She feels that the more you get to know others of different backgrounds and each other’s cultures, the more you learn to see things from different perspectives. In her spare time, she is a keen photographer and video gamer.
In this post Mabel shares with us some background information about the Chinese New Year as well as her personal experience of Chinese New Year celebrations when she was growing up in Malaysia and Singapore.
Mabel has written the post in such a way that it could be read to a class of children. Indeed, we have worked together to prepare it as such, and it is now available as an estory, free to everyone—there is no need even to register—in Chinese New Year Cultural Studies resources.
In addition, I have prepared some suggestions for Celebrating Chinese New Year in the early childhood classroom, and some bookmarks to make and print to wish people a Happy Chinese New Year. I am very grateful to Mabel for her input in the preparation of these resources, which are also available free to everyone—no need even to register.
Welcome to readilearn, Mabel. Over to you.
The Chinese New Year is one of the most important cultural occasions for those of Chinese background.
There are many ways to observe and celebrate this occasion. All around the world, from a young age many Chinese are taught the significance of this annual event.
The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. Based on the cycles of the moon, the festival occurs on a different day each year. It falls sometime between 21 January and 20 February and celebrations go on for 15 days. This year in 2018 the Chinese New Year falls on Friday 16 February.
The Chinese (lunar) calendar is marked by the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, a means for counting the years. Each animal represents a different kind of personality and each Chinese year corresponds to a different animal – and so each year has a different ‘personality’ so to speak.
The festival dates back thousands of centuries. According to popular legend, it started with a monster called Nian who had a dragon-like head and a body similar to that of a lion. Nian preyed on villagers and their children, and it was also rumoured Nian had a sensitivity to loud noises and bright colours. After some planning, the villagers managed to chase him away with firecrackers, red lanterns and by banging loudly on drums. (N: Check out last week’s post when we interviewed author Sofia Goodsoul about her picture book Nian the Lunar Dragon.)
The celebration is marked by public holidays in many parts of Asia including China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is a time for appreciating hard work done throughout the past year and relaxing with family and friends.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in school
I grew up in Malaysia and Singapore, and the schools I attended enthusiastically encouraged my class to partake in Chinese New Year celebrations each year. My classes were very diverse: classmates of Chinese-Malaysian descent studied side by side with students from the UK, the United States and Australia.
In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year, my teachers encouraged my class to dress up in traditional Chinese costumes – such as cheongsam and samfoo for girls and changshan for boys. Dressed in Chinese cultural attire, my class learnt the Chinese ribbon dance (dancers whirl long strips of silk through the air) and performed our routines in front of the rest of the school.
Those of us who weren’t brave enough to perform sat back and enjoyed the show, and also enjoyed the lion and dragon dance performances put on by the school’s dance troupe. My class and I always marvelled at the quick, nimble steps of the troupe as they moved the lion/dragon heads in sync with drum beats. We learnt that both dances symbolised courage, prowess and wisdom in the face of driving out evil and ushering in good luck.
As the Chinese New Year approached, teachers encouraged my class to try our hand at basic Chinese calligraphy writing. One particular Chinese character we always wrote was ‘fú’ or ‘福’ on red coloured calligraphy paper. This word translates to ‘fortune’ and ‘good luck’, which is what many Chinese wish for the New Year ahead. After painting this word on pieces of red paper, my class hung them upside down on the classrooms walls – this word displayed upside down symbolises the notion of good luck arriving.
Practicing Chinese calligraphy is much harder than it looks. Step-by-step, the teachers at school taught my class the correct techniques: the right way to hold the brush, the right sequences painting each Chinese character. It took me hours of practice before I got the word ‘fú’ looking nice and neat in ink on paper. For my class, writing calligraphy was more than an exercise in learning how to write Chinese and recognising the Chinese New Year. It was a time where we learnt the values of patience, attention to detail and perseverance, values that are prided upon within Chinese culture.
Exchanging mandarins was also something my classmates in Malaysia and Singapore did around the Chinese New Year. We were encouraged to bring mandarins to school and exchange them with each other and our teachers. In Chinese, mandarins are called ‘kam’ which translates to ‘gold’ and arguably mandarins themselves resemble gold nuggets. My classmates and I exchanged these fruits in pairs; the number 2 in Chinese culture represents ‘double’ and exchanging two mandarins hence is symbolic of the idea ‘double the gold, double the wealth’.
It was always fun exchanging and more so sharing these fruits in class. Some of us would get sweet mandarins, some of us would get even sweeter mandarins. Sharing is an important part of Chinese culture, which is what encourages collectivity and togetherness among the Chinese.
New Year, family and home
Every year my family celebrates the Chinese New Year, observing customary traditions. When we lived in South East Asia, a week before the occasion we cleaned the house from top to bottom. The sentiment was ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as we got rid of what we didn’t need any more around the house and bought new clothes.
Similarly, food and the sharing of food is an integral part of Chinese culture. The reunion dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year is an important part of ushering in the year ahead. Growing up in Asia, my family and I travelled to our grandparents’ town for the reunion dinner every Chinese New Year eve. The dishes served at this dinner often have specific meanings attached to them. On the menu at my grandparents’ place this time of the year, there was always homemade pork dumplings (wealth), roasted chicken (togetherness), fish (abundance), abalone (good fortune), noodles (longevity), Chinese broccoli (health) and many more auspicious dishes.
Aside from feasting, visiting our relatives and friends was something my family and I did for the first two days of the Chinese New Year in Malaysia and Singapore. As part of customary tradition handed out to younger generations, my relatives gifted me red packets stuffed with money, symbolic of happiness and prosperity.
All in all, the Chinese New Year is a festival that many Chinese proudly partake in, and anyone can join in the celebrations as well. With an open mind and respect for different cultures, there is much reason for all of us to enjoy the festivities and camaraderie of this special occasion.
Thank you, Mabel, for telling us about the Chinese New Year and for sharing your experiences. Let me take this opportunity of wishing you a very happy Chinese New Year!
Thank you for having me. I wish you and your readers a happy Chinese New Year–新年快樂 Xīn Nián Kuài Lè.
Remember, Mabel’s information is also available for free access as an estory to share with your children.
Please check out the new free resource Celebrating Chinese New Year in the early childhood classroom for additional suggestions. Perhaps you could make a bookmark to wish someone a Happy Chinese New Year.
Where you can connect with Mabel:
on her blog: Mabel Kwong – Asian Australian. Multiculturalism
Facebook: Mabel Kwong
Twitter: Mabel Kwong
Instagram: Mabel Kwong
While these new resources, made in collaboration with Mabel, are available free to everyone. There are many other resources that are designed to support you in the classroom.
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