readilearn: The Significance of the Chinese New Year–a guest post by Mabel Kwong

  • Published on February 2, 2018

Chinese New Year multicultural Australia

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.

Chinese New Year celebrations

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.

celebrating Chinese New Year in the early childhood classroom Happy Chinese New Year bookmarks

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.

Happy Chinese New Year

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.

twelve animals of Chinese zodiac

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.

Chinese New Year festival dragon

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.

celebrating Chinese New Year Lion Dance

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 ‘’ 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.

calligraphy Chinese writing

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 ‘’ 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.

mandarins for Chinese New Year

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.

Chinese New Year celebration meal food

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.

red envelope red packet Chinese New Year

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 anybody

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.

Chinese New Year celebrations

Remember, Mabel’s information is also available for free access as an estory to share with your children.

celebrating Chinese New Year in the early childhood classroom Happy Chinese New Year bookmarks

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.

Register now to begin using free resources, or Subscribe for access to all resources.

Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
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    Thank you so much for letting me share my experiences and thoughts on the Chinese New Year, Norah. It was such a pleasure working with you and it turned out to be such a great post and resource overall ???? Also it was a wonderful post you did with Sofia and her children’s book on the Chinese New Year. It is such an important festival to many Chinese, and with such a large Chinese community in Australia, it is worthwhile to understand the occasion more and learn about each other’s perspectives. Also a great response to your post too and I enjoyed reading what others have to say. They are very kind to stop by and interact ????

    The pleasure was mine, Mabel. The information you shared was very interesting and will be of wonderful support to early childhood teachers and their children. I’m sure it will bring greater understanding to classrooms and better acceptance of and appreciation for different traditions. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading the comments of others too. Best wishes, and thank you. Happy Chinese New Year!

    What a wonderful resource that Mabel has created. Personal and informative with gorgeous visuals. I’ve enjoyed many a Chinese New Year celebration in my travels but I learned a few things here that I had not been aware of about calligraphy and the meaning of certain foods. The season is upon us. Getting psyched!

    Thank you for reading and leaving such a lovely comment, Lisa. I enjoyed learning about the meaning of foods too. I wasn’t aware of that. Enjoy your Chinese New Year celebration this year!

    How wonderful to read about Mabel’s vibrant and exciting Chinese New year celebrations. My children’s uncle in California had many Chinese friends going back decades and always celebrated the Chinese New Year, often sending them little parcels of goodies 🙂 I didn’t know about the mandarins, the perfect fruit for such a celebration, just like gold nugggets! We loved visiting China Town in Los Angeles and your post Mabel, reminds me of our time there. The ribbon dancing is so beautiful. What a wonderful learning resource for children about other cultures and experiences Norah. It is so good to visit you both again, Norah and Mabel in the same post, what a lovely treat, thank you 🙂

    I’m pleased you enjoyed reading about Mabel’s Chinese New Year celebrations, Sherri. Thank you for sharing yours. It is always fun to find out about traditions that others enjoy. Mabel did a fantastic job of sharing hers with us.

    Lovely to find Mabel here sharing her knowledge and experiences as I have come to love on her blog. I always come away have learned more and am always grateful. I had no idea about the exchange of mandarins for instance. Wonderful to see a child friendly version as well.

    Thank you for popping over to read and comment, Sue. I’m pleased to hear you enjoy Mabel’s blog as much as I do. I always learn a lot from her.

    So wonderful to see Mabel here and sharing this excellent insight into the Chinese New Year. I loved learning about what the different foods and colors represent, and loved the bit about the mandarin oranges. I think this is the year of the dog if I’m not mistaken? I was born in the year of the pig, not so flattering, lol. 🙂 <3

    The year of the dog. Now you’ve given your age away. 🙂
    Mabel shared some wonderful insights, didn’t she. I also loved learning about the food. I didn’t realise that each food had a different significance. It’s all very fascinating. I enjoyed learning from Mabel. I’m pleased you did too. Thank you, Debby, for reading and commenting.

    Oh Debby, so sorry. Yes, the year of the dog is coming up. I thought pig when I wrote your year but wrote dog. I’m a dragon, so now I’ve given my age away too. 🙂

    The red and gold is so vibrant and so traditional to the Chinese New Year. I actually enjoy it more than celebrating the Western New Year! The ribbon dancing and calligraphy are both such beautiful and mindful creative activities for children. The dancers in the video are amazing especially for how young they are. An interesting post, Norah!

    Thank you, Charli. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post. I’m very grateful to Mabel for her generosity in sharing her traditions and experiences. It’s great to be able share authentic stories. I agree with you about dancing and calligraphy being activities that encourage mindfulness. We need to add more similar activities to the school day.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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