Across the globe, New Year’s festivities essentially all acknowledge the act of releasing the previous year to welcome the start of a new year and a clean slate. Even though this purpose may be universally shared, the particular ways in which cultures and individuals mark the new year greatly differ.
At The Everymom, we value learning—and instructing our families—about diverse cultures and customs as part of our principles grounded in the significance of justice, diversity, and inclusion. We appreciate learning from one another, respecting our disparities, and honoring what brings us all together. Keeping that in mind and with Lunar New Year upon us, we are here to present distinct methods for educating your children about Lunar New Year and propose ways to commemorate this festive occasion with your family. We hope you join us in commemorating this event as an exceptional AAPI tradition illustrating the power of hope, the elegance of respecting one’s predecessors, and the value of spending meaningful time with family and friends.
What Exactly is Lunar New Year?
While much of the United States celebrates the New Year in chilly weather with thick winter coats and the finest waterproof snow boots, many Asian nations have historically celebrated their New Year later, from late January to mid-February. According to The Washington Post, Lunar New Year—also referred to as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year—“symbolizes and embodies a hopeful transition from the cold winter to the season of renewal.” During this time of welcoming the new year, numerous traditions are observed, ancestors are honored, families reunite, feasts are abundant, and celebrations are grand. Lunar New Year celebrates the hope for good fortune, lasting prosperity, and the presence of joy for all.
Based on a rich history spanning thousands of years, the China Highlights website refers to Lunar New Year as “the most significant occasion for generations of families to reunite and spend time together. The celebration is also believed to be crucial in ensuring good fortune for the upcoming year.” Celebrated in numerous Asian countries, Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese Chunjie, Vietnamese Tet, Tibetan Losar, and Korean Seollal, with all celebrations commemorating the beginning of the new moon of the lunar calendar. The festivities extend for 15 days and conclude with a vibrant lantern festival illuminating the night sky. The celebratory aspects of Lunar New Year may differ from country to country, but those 15 days, and a few days preceding the New Year, are often filled with dragon and lion dances, exchanging of gifts, magnificent fireworks, and “purifying” rituals to attract good fortune, as well as unforgettable reunions with family and friends.
Numerous legends associated with Lunar New Year across Asian cultures provide significance to many of the elements of this celebration. Brittanica.com recounts the legend of Nian, “a monstrous creature believed to feed on human flesh on New Year’s day. Since Nian feared the color red, loud noises, and fire, red paper decorations were affixed to doors, lanterns were lit throughout the night, and firecrackers were ignited to scare the creature away.” Celebrations for Lunar New Year to honor the change in seasons and the commencement of the lunar calendar can differ from more intimate gatherings with family and friends to more dazzling public events featuring parades and performances.
When Does Lunar New Year Occur?
Lunar New Year is determined by the traditional lunisolar calendar, which is utilized in many Asian countries to calculate the components of a year based on the moon’s cycles. As a result, the dates vary each year, but typically fall between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. This year, Lunar New Year commences on the new moon of the year falling on Feb. 10, 2024. Festivities continue for two weeks and culminate in the radiant lantern festival, which coincides with the date of the subsequent full moon, Feb. 24, 2024.
Who Participates in Lunar New Year Celebrations?
Although Lunar New Year is often referred to as Chinese New Year, this label does not fully represent the diversity of Asian nations that celebrate this tradition. Lunar New Year, a more encompassing term, is “observed by over 1 billion people globally,” as per The Washington Post. It is also acknowledged as “the world’s largest annual migration” because it brings together numerous families across different regions worldwide. Nowadays, Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and also extends to communities with substantial Asian diaspora, such as in San Francisco.
Key Elements of Lunar New Year Celebrations
Each country and family marks Lunar New Year in distinct ways. The diversity of these celebrations is what makes this holiday so special for many generations. The celebratory elements within Chinese New Year, for instance, are the most widely recognized in the United States. According to National Geographic, you may have heard, “In Mandarin, they’ll say gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财), wishing you a prosperous New Year. In Cantonese, it’s gong hey fat choi. Still, if you wish someone xin nian kuai le (新年快乐), literally ‘happy new year,’ [is] perfectly welcome, too.” It’s important to note that other Asian countries that celebrate Lunar New Year have their own beautiful ways of honoring this momentous occasion.
Nevertheless, there are some typical celebratory elements to welcome spring and the change of seasons in the new year.
Kids World Travel Guide notes, “A very popular new year’s gift for children and teenagers are red parcels with money. This money should be new banknotes and given in an attractive red envelope, which symbolizes good luck.”
Lunar New Year is a time of rich traditions, symbolic rituals, and joyous celebrations with family and loved ones. The preparations, meals, decor, and cultural customs all play a significant role in ushering in a prosperous and auspicious new year according to the lunar calendar. It is a time for love, unity, and hopes for a bright future as families gather to honor their heritage and welcome the springtime with exuberance and good fortune.
Present tokens of good fortune in honor of the upcoming year. Small crimson packets filled with cash are presented to young ones to convey well wishes and bestow prosperity upon them as they embrace the start of the new year. These crimson packets, known as hongbao in Mandarin, are adorned with elegant golden lettering and can encase any sum of money that is believed to bring good luck to the recipient.
Illuminative elements such as fireworks and lanterns carry great symbolic significance during the Lunar New Year, symbolizing the dispelling of darkness and the arrival of good fortune. Throughout the Lunar New Year celebration, one can witness lanterns of various forms and dimensions adorning every nook and cranny of the locale, including residences, parks, shrines, and shops. These vivid red and golden lanterns epitomize affluence and vigor. Following New Year’s Day, revelries persist for a fortnight, culminating in the resplendent Lantern Festival where a multitude of colorful, radiant lanterns illuminate the nocturnal sky.
The Chinese Zodiac & The Year of the Dragon
The lunisolar calendar trails our Gregorian calendar by roughly a month, resulting in an additional span of approximately 30 to 50 days per annum. Kids World Travel Guide expounds that this lunisolar calendar “originated from astronomical observations of the moon’s phases. Each year, one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals symbolizes the year. The 12 Chinese zodiac animals are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.” Furthermore, the lunisolar calendar distinguishes between five categories of animal species within each zodiac, encompassing the following elements: fire, earth, metal, wood, and water—culminating in a 60-year cycle. The individualized zodiac signs, in harmony with the five elements, determine the particular zodiac sign celebrated each year.
This year, 2024, marks the Year of the Dragon. Birth years for the Year of the Dragon include 1988, 2000, 2012, and 2024. According to Almanac.com, those born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to possess strong ambition, energy, and charisma, often serving as a source of inspiration due to their zeal and verve. They are regarded as natural leaders, exuding confidence and fearlessness when it comes to taking risks, rendering them magnetic personalities within social and professional circles.
How to Learn About Lunar New Year
With a fundamental grasp of the magnificent Lunar New Year revelries, you can impart this knowledge to the little ones. The following resources encompassing lessons and literature revolving around the Lunar New Year will enable you to feel prepared and enthusiastic about acquainting your children with this age-old tradition and partaking in the festivities of the new year.
1. Lunar New Year for Kids | Educational Video (2:19)
A succinct video by Scholastic that provides a brief overview of Lunar New Year using real-life visuals.
2. Fortune Tales | The Story of Lunar New Year (5:10)
Panda Express TV’s video employs colorful animated characters to illustrate this enthralling holiday in a simplified manner to engage children.
3. Chinese New Year for Kids (8:16)
For a more in-depth elucidation suitable for older children, this video provides a comprehensive portrayal of Lunar New Year. Although titled Chinese New Year for Kids, the narrator consistently employs the inclusive term Lunar New Year throughout the presentation.
Lessons & Activities
Once you have acquainted your children with the significance of Lunar New Year, should you feel inspired, you can delve into more advanced lessons that incorporate literacy and mathematical components revolving around the central theme of Lunar New Year. Below are various options catering to the developmental stage of your child. All lessons are available for a modest fee.
1. Chinese New Year 2023 Activities Poems / Songs Shared Reading Year of the Rabbit
Suggested Age Level: Pre-K – 1st Grade
These lessons feature entertaining and engaging songs introducing Lunar New Year concepts, set to the tunes of popular nursery rhymes. Additionally, they include poems and visual aids to signify key terms.
2. Chinese New Year Activities, Chinese New Year Coloring Pages, Chinese New Year Printable for Kids
Suggested Age Level: Pre-K – Kindergarten
For more interactive activities tailored to preschool and kindergarten age groups, this activity bundle encompasses exercises to enhance fine motor skills, literacy, and numeracy—all within the context of Lunar New Year.
3. Chinese New Year (Close Reading Passages and More)
Suggested Age Level: 2nd – 4th grade
Designed for elementary school children, this educational package comprises reading passages with three different proficiency levels centering on key aspects of the Lunar New Year celebration, including the legend of Nian, the Lunar Zodiac symbols, and a general overview of this tradition.
4. Chinese New Year & Chinese Zodiac Animals
Suggested Age Level: 1st – 6th grade
Another option suitable for elementary school-age children is this activity packet consisting of reading passages about Lunar New Year and the Lunar Zodiac. Also included are coloring pages and drawing exercises.
Lunar New Year Books
Below, an assortment of books for varying developmental stages introduces the Lunar New Year celebration and narratives that integrate character development within the backdrop of Lunar New Year.