Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chinese New Year traditions and art project

Happy Year of the Snake!

Sunday (2/10/13) was the start of the Chinese New Year!  Gung Hay Fat Choy to you and yours!  It is the Year of the Snake, as each year is named for one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, and I hope it's going to be a good one.  I have a snake project planned for tomorrow but today I thought we should learn what actually happens during the 15 day celebration of the New Year.  The Chinese calendar is based on lunar/solar months and the new year begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice, so that is why it typically is the end of January or early February.  Prior to that day people spend time cleaning their homes to sweep away any bad luck or misfortunes that happened during the last year and to make a fresh start for the new year.  The make sure to have fresh haircuts and new clothes to wear.  The houses will be decorated with paper cuttings, lanterns and scrolls with small verses with themes of good fortune and happiness.  Red is a dominant color based on the legend behind Chinese New Year.

According to the legend, on the first day of New Years' past, a beast called the Nian would attack the villages and eat the crops, livestock or even small children.  The villagers would put out offerings to try to win his favor until they noticed that he seemed to be afraid of the color red.  So the next year, the villagers hung red lanterns and scrolls from their homes and lit loud firecrackers to scare away the Nian.  He never again returned.  A lot of the symbols of Chinese New Year make a little more sense now :)

The eve of Chinese New Year is one of the most important days.  On New Year's Eve families have a reunion dinner.  Fish is traditionally served. along with dumplings, both are symbols of prosperity.  Noodles are a symbol of longevity and it is considered bad luck to cut your noodles and good luck to have very long ones!
At midnight fireworks are set off to drive away any evil spirits.  It is considered good luck to be the first person to light the first firecracker in the new year.  The family stays up late and celebrates.

The first day of the New Year is the day to honor your elders and ancestors.  Elders will give red envelopes to the children filled with lucky money or sweets.

The second day is when married women would go to visit their parents.  It is also considered the birthday of all dogs and so they get a special treat. WOOF.

The third day people stay at home because it is supposed to be unlucky to have guests or visit.  They probably just need a break :)

The fifth day (today!) is the birthday of the God of Wealth and so people will shoot off firecrackers to get his attention!  Darn, I don't have any firecrackers!!!  Maybe my screaming kids will get his attention :)

The seventh day is considered the birthday of everyone!!  Happy birthday!  Everyone turns one year older on this day.  Can you imagine how crowded Chuck E. Cheese must be!

The fifteenth day is the last day of celebrations.  It is the day of the lantern festival.  Candles are lit outside to guide any wayward spirits home and families hang lanterns from their homes to scare away evil or bad fortune.  The lanterns are symbols of long life and, also, of the families wealth.  Some wealthy families have lanterns so big that it takes many
people to carry them!  What a sight it must be :)

I mentioned before that we live in an area with many Asian/Chinese people and so Chinese New Year is a big deal.  My son received a red envelope at school and my daughter made a dragon puppet (dragons are important symbols in China) so I thought we should make a red lantern to hang and scare away any evil.  Couldn't hurt right?

Chinese Red Lantern
For the project you will need:
  • red construction paper
  • scissors
  • stapler or tape
  • gold glitter glue or stickers if desired
1.  Fold one piece of red construction paper in half lengthwise and cut slits almost all the way through.
2. Open paper back up and make a cylinder. Staple or tape.
3. Cut handle from another piece of paper and attach to top.
4. Decorate or leave simple.

Note that this lantern is NOT fire resistant and candles should not be put inside.  It is just for display, please.