Did you know that the largest single human migration event occurs annually as the Chinese travel to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year?
More than 300 million Chinese travel to spend Lunar New Year’s Eve and the subsequent days with family. This compares to 50+ million who travel in the USA for Thanksgiving or Christmas and 2+ million who travel to Hajj in Saudi Arabia. That is crazy!!
So, learning about Chinese Lunar New Year traditions seems like a terrific opportunity to deepen your students’ cultural awareness and sensitivity.
My favorite approach to teaching the cultural significance of Chinese Lunar New Year traditions is through its origins in ancient Chinese folktales. Everyone loves a good story. Folktales are generally full of fantastic characters and themes. You can link to my Chinese Lunar New Year Resource HERE.
And, oh BTW, its a super crossover between Social Studies and ELA! Just sayin’!
So let me share my step-by step approach to this super fun learning experience.
1) Chinese Lunar New Year
First off, the Chinese refer to Lunar New Year as Spring Festival, as it falls at the lunisolar beginning of spring.
And what is lunisolar? It’s simply tracking the movements of the sun and moon to date events.
For Chinese Lunar New Year, this translates to New Year’s Day falling on the 1st day of the 1st new moon after the sun’s Winter Solstice. That’s a mouthful.
This date changes each year since the cycles of the sun and moon vary each year. On the Gregorian calendar, Spring Festival starts anywhere from mid-January to mid-February.
Spring Festival celebrations begin on New Year’s Day and continue for 15 days until the Lantern Festival when the 1st full moon of the Lunar Year is brightest. That mega migration on Chinese New Year’s Eve adds a 16th day to the celebrations.
Most of China shuts down for an entire week during Spring Festival.
2) Chinese Lunar New Year Traditions (Days 1-2)
Before we tackle the folktales connection, I want students to know a bit about each of the major Spring Festival traditions.
So, students spend 2 days of 40-min periods reading 1/2-page cards about the cultural significance of major Lunar New Year traditions.
- Chinese Lunar New Year (start off with a brief background)
- New Year’s Eve
- New Year’s Day
- Lantern Festival
- Chinese Zodiac
- Red Envelopes
- Lion Dance
- Dragon Dance
- Paper Cutting
- Money Tree
- Kitchen God
- God of Wealth
- Door gods
- Lucky Food (noodles, dumplings, spring rolls, pork, chicken, shrimp, fish, sticky rice balls and cake, orange fruits)
Student engagement is high with this activity as the full-color, 1/2-page card format is a fun change of pace. The information is nicely chunked into bite-sized passages. And students can read the cards in any order.
Group seating arrangements make it easy for students to share cards. That means less printing, laminating, cutting, and storage for you.
BTW, a plug here for the Staples 9 Liter Really Useful Box. These boxes stack beautifully and are the perfect size for 1/2-page cards and booklets.
3) Comprehension (Days 1-2)
As students read about each tradition, they complete the related comprehension questions in Print or Digital formats.
I personally love 1/2-page, double-sided, folded booklets instead of full-page worksheets for enrichment activities such as this. Since I won’t assess deeply on Lunar New Year traditions, it’s fun to break away from more formal notes.
If you become a fan of booklets, you’ll need a long arm stapler which your school may have in it’s workroom. I bought myself this Swingline Stapler from Amazon which has lasted through thousands of booklets.
For flexibility, I’ve also included a full page comprehension format along with full-color digital slides that you can complete within your password-protected, student-only access classroom site. If you use Google Classroom, you’ll want to convert my PPT to Google Slides and open the document in Kami to add text boxes.
4) Grading (Day 3)
I spend a third day reviewing the comprehension answers.
I call on volunteers for each piece of information as a rapid fire activity. Students correct and make additions. This saves an amazing amount of you time grading each comprehension booklet or packet.
I collect the booklet/packet and scan each page quickly for completion. I assign 2-3 points per page.
This is a great activity to boost grades as it’s high interest so student tend to earn all available points.
5) Connect Chinese Lunar New Year Traditions to Folktales (Day 4)
And we arrive at the heart of this 4-day activity.
Today students deepen their cultural awareness of China as they discover that Spring Festival traditions aren’t just a random collection of activities and customs. Rather, Spring Festival traditions reflect thousands of years of Chinese culture and mythology.
Students read each of seven included folktales to determine which Spring Festival traditions are drawn from each folktale.
- The Demon Nián
- The Great Race
- The Demon Suì
- The Jade Emperor and the Goose
- The Golden Dragon
- The Kitchen God
- The Peach Tree
Some of my students benefitted from annotating the folktales, so I have provided my answer keys with annotations tied to the Comprehension Chart.
As students read each folktale, they highlight the traditions which derive from each folktale in this handy chart.
Then, they unscramble the highlighted letters to solve a Lantern Riddle.
6) Lantern Riddles
Lantern Riddles are an important part of the Lantern Festival which is the 15th and last day of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. Riddles hang from lanterns which cover public spaces throughout China.
For even more fun, I’ve included 20 additional Lantern Riddles (and answers) to solve. Create lanterns from the enclosed templates to decorate your room and hang lantern riddles from them, just like in China!
7) Video Clips
Here are some fun video clips I’ve curated from you. I’m an especial fan of the Lego videos as they’re filmed using Lego’s Lunar New Year kits which I’ve enjoyed building myself!
in case the links become broken, I’ve listed each video by its titles which allows you to search directly on YouTube.
What is Chinese Lion Dancing 2:55 min video by Culture Creatures
Chinese Dragon Dance – 1:36 min video by Smithsonian Folklife showing a dragon dance
LEGO Chinese New Year Dinner – A 1:11 min Lego stop action video by Willinova showing preparations and celebration of The New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner
The Legend of Chinese New Year Lego Brickfilm – A 3:42 Lego stop action video by brickAmaze about the Legend of Nian and Lunar New Year Customs
Chinese New Year Traditions Stop Motion Brickfilm – 5:07 min Lego stop action film by Brick Amaze showing preparation and traditions surrounding Chinese Spring Festival
The Myth behind the Chinese Zodiac – 4:22 video by Ted-Ed retelling the Great Race Folktale from which the Chinese Zodiac is derived.
8) Need to Adapt this Resource?
Here are some additional ideas for adapting this resource:
- if you don’t have full days to complete the activity, maybe assign one Traditions card and Comprehension Questions each night during the 15 days of Luner New Year for homework or bell work. Definitely set aside time to review the completed project as a class to save yourself hours of grading.
- Assign the activity as a two-part Independent project with the Traditions/Comprehension piece needing to be completed before the Folktales piece can be undertaken.
- Assign it as an LOW PREP Extra Credit project which enriches student knowledge.
- Use it for Early Finishers
- Leave it for a Substitute
- Calamity Day project
- Break apart the Traditions/Comprehension piece to complete in SS and the Folktale piece in ELA
- If you live in an area with an Asia town/Chinatown, provide extra credit for students to attend Chinese Lunar New Years activities. Most perform lion and dragon dances!
- Take a field trip to a Chinese restaurant to sample traditional New Year’s food.
Enjoy sharing China’s rich Lunar New Year traditions with your students. Don’t hesitate to let me know how you celebrate!
PS. If you love integrating literature and ancient history, check out my blog post Embracing Cultural Diversity: 13 Cinderella Tales from Around the World