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Chinese New Year: Teach your students about symbolism

26 January 2017

With Chinese New Year this weekend (28 January 2017), there is no better time than to explore the fascinating symbolism in the many Chinese traditions.

Chinese New Year has many acts and superstitions that hold a lot of meaning. Traditions are all based on making sure that the following twelve months are as prosperous, healthy and happy as possible. They also focus on getting rid of any negative energy. Children will love finding out about the many practices that make up this particular time in the Chinese calendar.

Make a Chinese New Year menu

A lot of the food eaten around Chinese New Year carries a lot of meaning. Young people will enjoy finding out that shrimp is a New Year food because its Chinese name ‘ha’ sounds like laughter. Your students can study the tradition of eating egg dumplings and glass noodles because they look like gold nuggets and silver chains and find out why dumplings and spring rolls symbolise wealth and prosperity.
Get your children to design a Chinese restaurant menu specifically for New Year and explore the meaning behind the full range of foods enjoyed around this time of year.

Explore the Chinese Zodiac characteristics

This year is the Year of the Rooster.

As each animal symbolises a list of characteristics, look at what these are and see if your children identify any in themselves. The Rooster stands for punctuality and fidelity. People born in the year of the Rooster are honest, ambitious, bright and independent
Why not look at the animal of the year your children were born in and discuss the different characteristics. Children can vote for the classmate who most displays those characteristics.

Make a Chinese Dragon

What would a New Year be without a Chinese dragon? The Chinese dragon dance is integral to celebrations, and it carries a lot of symbolism. As the dragon also acts as the river spirit, the dance mirrors the flow of the river in its twists and turns.
Children will love finding out about how dragons are revered in China and how they stand for good luck for the rest of the year. The longer the dragon dances for, the more good luck will fall on the community. Make a dragon with lengths of old material and a show piece head made from feathers, beads and glitter. The dragon can be paraded at assembly to celebrate this most famous of traditions.

Learn about the 15-day Celebration Milestones

For those outside of the Chinese community, they might not know that the New Year is celebrated over 15 days, and each day carries a different meaning. Ask your children to design a travel schedule for anyone visiting China during the festivities, for example welcoming them to a family reunion dinner on New Year's Eve, fireworks on New Year’s Day, staying indoors on the third day, the festival of Po Wu on the fifth day and so on.
While you explore these customs, find out about why sweeping up is banned in the first part of the festivities, how people send away the Ghost of Poverty and learn about the importance of the Jade Emperor. Because of the richness of the subject, there are a lot of teaching resources available. However, we hope some of the ideas above act as inspiration – and, of course, kung hei fat choi!

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