All he did was turn his lantern on.
I had no idea why it could possibly be so cool, but the Chinese lettering and lovely art that glowed red through the paper hanging from the ceiling sucked me in and my pal Cliff, with his parents smiling modestly in the background, began to tell us all about Chinese New Year.
That kindergarten crew couldn’t have been more diverse in terms of cultural beginnings. But, none of us had ever seen the sights that our 6-year-old pal was excitedly sharing with us.
It was late Winter, 1977 and Cliff took us on a journey back to ancient China.
He told us, in the way only a 6-year-old could describe, about oranges and flowers and how he would spend some time cleaning the house. We marveled over his ability to collect “red money” and wowed ourselves examining the blue and white bowls with ancient scenes in the bottom that would soon be filled with noodles for all of us to eat.
Then, Cliff disappeared.
He, his brothers and sisters brought us into the garage and flipped the lights on.
“A DRAGON!” we all screamed trying to find a way out. Things quickly settled down as the music began and we were treated to a show while the family danced beneath this gorgeous creature.
Then, his parents sent us home with a reminder that we could see Cliff again in a few days.
Until then, we would surely be dreaming of dragons and lanterns – and would forever more beg Cliff for a visit to his house to see them again.
Today marks the beginning of the 15-day celebration which marks the Lunar New Year and the incredible celebration of Chinese culture around the world.
And, while Cliff and I haven’t seen each other in a few decades, the indelible mark left by his family sharing their traditions and culture with Cliff’s young pals opened a door to my inner explorer and fostered a reverence for different cultures for which I am so very grateful.
Learning about and sharing these traditions with your family today and throughout the rest of the week can be a fantastic way to introduce Chinese culture into your home, celebrate heritage and expand your global savvy.
And, while I highly recommend taking the opportunity to connect with your family or friends of Chinese ancestry who can share with you the nuances of this time, there are many ways for you to discover this celebration on your own.
Try starting out here for a kid-friendly lesson in the history and traditions of Chinese New Year.
To connect your kiddos to Chinese culture, I think one of the most interesting places to start is the Chinese Zodiac. Try using this chart or this one to figure out what animal in the Chinese zodiac each person in your family is. Quickly, you learn a bit about each other and how Chinese culture looks at birth. 2008 is the year of the Rat. The Rat is the first of the animals in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac and symbolizes new beginnings.
If we lived on the Mainland, I’d recommend that you hit a dragon dance. One of the most spectacular and engaging ways to experience Chinese culture, the dragon and lion dances of the New Year are truly an amazing site. Since hitting the Mainland this weekend is out of the question for many of us, one fun way to check out these dances for yourselves is to plug in over at You Tube, where you can watch dragon and lion dances from around the globe that range from classroom creativity to authentic dances from China.
Our daughter watched a few of them, and then wanted me to keep the videos going so she could make up a few dances of her own. If you are super energetic, this could be a great chance to build a dragon of your own with some fun instructions here for a life-sized version.
I am more of a fan of the smaller versions, with one of my favourites detailed over at Enchanted Learning where there are also a whole whack of Chinese New Year crafts to try out.
For the painting crowd, you can also try you hand at making a poster for luck
We made lanterns to string around the house last night out of a simple piece of construction paper (don’t use white, it’s bad luck). Cut a strip for the handle off of the short end, then fold the paper the long way. Cut slits into it, unfold the paper and connect the two sort ends, making a cylinder. Glue, tape or staple them together and attach the handle for an easy lantern craft.
Once crafting is complete, don’t forget to head on over to the Cumberland Museum to check out the exhibits that include a display of on Cumberland’s strong Chinese heritage.
After all of that fun, take a trip to the grocery store (Valley Asian Foods on Cliffe Avenue or Leungs on Fifth Street are good spots to get more traditional items) and pick up some symbolic treats (Source:UVIC) to celebrate the new year including:
* Candied melon – growth and good health
* Red melon seed – dyed red to symbolize joy,happiness, truth and sincerity
* Lychee nut – strong family relationships
* Cumquat – prosperity (gold)
* Coconut – togetherness
* Peanuts – long life
* Longnan – many good sons
* Lotus seed – many children
You can also make a dinner with a whole fish to symbolize prosperity and make sure not to cut your noodles as they symbolize long life.
Speaking of food, this weekend offers up several ways locally to join in celebrating the Lunar New Year and connect a bit with Chinese culture.
On Saturday, you can join in a Chinese New Year celebration dinner at the Cumberland Cultural Centre. Catered by Panda Garden and packed with entertainment, this event which is partially funded by Culture Capital dollars should be fun for the whole family. Dinner is at 7 p.m. and the cost is $25. You need reservations. So, call 336-8313 to hook yourselves up.
You can also hit the Bamboo Inn in Comox all this week for a special Chinese New Year smorg that looks AMAZING. The special smorg is only in the evenings.
I also had a HUGE whack of books recommended to me by OBE mom Ange, who is always working on connecting her kiddos to their own Chinese heritage.
Here are a few:
-Dragon Dance (Chinese lift the flaps) by Joan Holub, illustrated by Benrei Huang
(in this one there is a cool dragon puppet craft on the back flap)
- D is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yongsheng Xuan (it has new year’s tips and a dumpling recipe)
- Red is a Dragon, A Book of Colors, written by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Grace Lin. (Grace Lin also has a counting one and shape one – they are nice hardcover books for young kids about chinese culture ..)
- Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
- Made in China by Deborah Nash (cool red paper butterfly craft in that one..)
- My Chinatown, One Year in Poems by Kam Mak
- Big Jimmy’s Kum Kau Chinese Takeout by Ted Lewin
- Ms Frizzle’s Adventures in Imperial China (Magic School Bus) by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen
- The Story of Noodles by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan
- The Greatest Power by Demi
Gung Hei Fat Choy!