Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Rabbit, Rabbit – Happy Chinese New Year!

Our homeschool group got together today for a Chinese New Year party and parade. The first day of Chinese New Year was actually last week on the 3rd, but it is celebrated for 15 days and so lasts through the 17th. We’d planned on a parade last week for our regularly scheduled park day, but the weather was being nasty so we rescheduled and combined our parade with our co-op class. We took the kids on a costumed walk through the neighborhood and got quite a few interesting looks from passers-by. I often wonder what people must be thinking when we take our kids out in a group, especially when they’re doing something ‘odd’. They had fun though, so who cares what other people think, right?

Holidays are always interesting for me; over the last couple of weeks, I’ve learned as much about CNY as the kids have. I grew up in a faith that didn’t celebrate holidays, so the whole business is a lot of fun for me. I always have to go read up on the ‘how-to’ for holidays. I did find a good ‘about CNY’ page at Kiddy House:


  • All debts have to be repaid by this time. There should also be no lending on this day as it is believed that it will put you in debt for the whole year.
  • Foul language or curse words and words that are supposed to be unlucky or sound unlucky should not be uttered.
  • Children also get away with their misbehaviour on this day. Parents do not want to upset their children or make them cry as crying on New Year’s Day is considered unlucky.
  • It is advisable to start the day off by consuming a bowl of sweet dessert called “tong sui” (sugary drink) in Cantonese. It symbolises starting the year off sweet and pleasant.
  • The children will greet their parents and adults : Gong Hei Fatt Choy (in Cantonese)Gong Xi Fa Cai (in Mandarin)Keong Hee Huat Chai (in Hokkien) The meaning of “Gong Xi” is congratulations while “Fa Cai” means be rich or prosperous. All the above have the same meaning. They only sound different.
  • New clothes and shoes are a must for Chinese New Year.
  • The younger generation will go visit their elder relatives and friends too. Married couples, will have to give a red packet called “Hong Pow” containing money inside to those who are not married and also to their parents.
  • The hosts will serve their guests all kinds of cookies and the Mandarin Orange. The Mandarin Orange is a symbol of prosperity.

We didn’t do much of this, but seeing what people do and why is always neat. It’s all in good fun around our house, but I find it fascinating that for some families this is serious business, especially in a historical context. The tradition of firecrackers for CNY celebrations comes from the Legend of Nian, and the Dragon Dance also has a long and complicated history. It’s been interesting to read about and see the ways that history and legend affect local customs, how they change over time and how they’re interpreted today.

When I was looking up CNY activities, I found a bunch of ideas and since we still have time left for the official celebration, we’ll probably still do a lapbook on China at some point this coming week. Here are some of the links that I’ll pull from to make our lapbook:

We learned that gifts of money are also traditional on CNY, presented in a red envelope. Activity Village has a template for red envelopes, or you can find a template with history and additional customs at Feng Shui Web. We substituted well wishes for the coming year and made one for all the kids that were at co-op today. Our hostess made a ribbon with feet and a tail to go on the kids’ masks to clip their red envelopes to; we hung them over the boys’ desks in the school room this evening.

When we were planning our parade, the moms in our group discussed going all-out and collaborating on a big dragon, but that was clearly way more work than we were looking for. Based on previous experience, what would happen is that the moms would end up doing all the work and the kids would trash it within the first 5 minutes of having ‘fun’ with it. Still, the idea of having our own giant dragon costume is intriguing. I’d planned on making smaller papier-mache/egg carton dragon puppets, but we didn’t get to that, either. We still might make one (or two), and if you’re feeling super crafty, here are some of the links I found; the egg carton dragon and ThatArtistWoman’s Dragon Puppet.

I also found a picture of kids with streamers on their arms and a dragon mask, and that’s what we actually ended up doing today for the parade. We printed out these masks, then colored them with markers and pasted them on colored paper for added strength, then cut and put ties on them. That worked out very well; the kids looked great with their streamers flying behind them as they paraded!

A few weeks ago, I found an offer for free Chinese New Year materials from Panda Express (I think it’s over now, but you can still see most of the material here) and ordered a kit for our group. One of the nifty things about being in a homeschool group is that in some settings, our group functions as a school so we can get materials that we might not have access to as an individual homeschooling family even though in Texas, each homeschool is considered a private school. The kit had a video that had some bite-sized info-bytes about Chinese culture and some of the history and customs associated with CNY, and as you might expect, a big ole advertisement for Panda Express. However, considering that the materials kit was free and they sent coupons for free kids meals as lai see, I guess I can live with that. The narrator did talk about traditional foods and their meanings and there was an activity guide, so the kids (well, the girls) got to make couple of little craft projects. They made paper lanterns (these are pretty, too) and the boys and I made party poppers as favors to hand out.

I found a link for felt fortune cookies, which would be cute for a kids’ kitchen. I also found a recipe for them as well, but I can’t honestly say that I’m interested in making them. Cooking is so not my forte, but maybe one day we’ll get around to attempting them. We did have a lovely Chinese-themed potluck lunch buffet, and a fabulous yin-yang cake made with tinted black chocolate frosting and marshmallows. The kids all thought that the cake was awesome. If you’ve never made Chinese food at home, give it a try. Even without traditional cookware, it’s easy and so very tasty! Then, you can make dessert… good fortune cupcakesmandarin orange muffins (which might also be good for breakfast).

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be peaceful and quiet following the Year of the Tiger, so with that in mind, may your year be restful and unhurried, with good taste and refinement shining on all your endeavors!



6 responses

  1. Great post! Thanks for passing along all your knowledge of Chinese New Year. I learned a lot from your post.

    February 12, 2011 at 7:13 am

    • Thanks 🙂 Glad I could help. Hopefully I’ll remember this post next year so I won’t have to go looking for resources, lol.

      February 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  2. Wow–lots of fun stuff! Those masks are awesome!

    We had Chinese food, too. But we didn’t make it at home, we just went to our favorite restaurant!

    February 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

  3. I think it’s wonderful anytime a child can wear a costume and role play.

    February 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

  4. Awesome! I love the photo of the parade!
    I believe we made those exact same masks. Lol

    February 22, 2011 at 6:32 am

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