Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how it began. I chalk it up to being a slightly bored, housebound, stay-at-home mom who, when trapped by the freezing temperatures and mounds of snow outside, latched onto an idea to bring some festivity to the otherwise drab early February. This is how my family adopted the celebration of Chinese New Year.
What started as an attempt to pull us from our winter doldrums (and I admit an excuse to order in rather than cook) has become a cherished tradition in our household. Along the way the Museum Educator in me came out and we have developed a deep appreciation for the history and tradition of the holiday. We embrace many of the activities of the New Year as well – everyone gets a haircut (the only time of year they don’t fight me), we clean our house (again, much less of a fight when they know it is for the New Year), we make fortune cookies and Nian Gao, cut-paper lantern decorations hang about the house, and we listen to Chinese music. Perhaps my favorite part is when we remember our ancestors – Chinese New Year reminds us to talk to the girls about the great-grandparents they never met, or can’t remember well.
Something about Chinese New Year is simply appealing to kids. First, why wouldn’t you want another opportunity to have a celebration? Second, it is fascinating that Chinese zodiac names each year for an animal. Finally, lion dancers and dragons are really cool.
In major part because of our celebration we always visit Chinatown when we are in NYC. This hectic, busy, loud section of the city is endlessly fascinating to my girls. They want to shop for red envelopes and lanterns, get an ice-cream cone at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (where the “exotic” flavors include vanilla, and the “regular” flavors range from green tea to banana durian), and try delicacies like dried cuttlefish. These visits also lead to great discussions, and further reading, about immigration and settlement of cultural enclaves in major cities.
This year Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, February 19, and many cities have celebrations you can attend. Check out how New York, San Francisco and Seattle are planning to welcome in the Year of the Sheep. If you can’t make it, consider having your own celebration. ChineseNewYears.info has a nice overview of the holiday and a trip to your local Asian market will provide the rest. Over the years we have established a large collection of Chinese New Year books to help us with our celebration. Our favorites are below to help you get started.
My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz. A perfect beginning book for young readers to explore all the preparation and festivity of Chinese New Year. (PB)
Bringing In the New Year by Grace Lin. Follow a Chinese-American family as they prepare for the holiday. (PB)
PBP Note: I simply ADORE Grace Lin and there isn’t a thing she has written that I don’t LOVE. Other great PB titles include Dim Sum for Everyone! and Fortune Cookie Fortunes. Also check out her Ling & Ting ER Series and Pacy Lin Series for Advanced ER. Look below for MR titles that are amazing!
D Is For Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine. There is an aspect of Chinese New Year for every letter of the alphabet. Celebrate from Acrobats to Zodiac. (PB)
The Runaway Rice Cake by Ying Chang Compestine. The Chang family only has one rice cake for the New Year – and when it runs away the three brothers chase it across town. What could end in disaster results in a special lesson – when you give to others it comes back to you ten-fold. This is where our family found our Nian-Gao recipe, which we make every year. Other folk-tales by Compestine in her “story of” series such as The Story of Noodles, The Story of Chopsticks, and The Story of Paper are additional delightful reads for the holiday. (PB)
Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin. There are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac and author Oliver Chin has a story for each. Discover which year your child is born in and read their story, or read them all! (PB)
Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto. This non-fiction National Geographic book takes a look at Chinese New Year celebrations around the globe, highlighting the tradition and pagentry of this world-wide cultural event. Beautiful photography accompanies clear, informative text. (PB)
The New Year Dragon Dilemma: A to Z Mysteries Super Edition #5 by Ron Roy. The kids are in San Francisco and their new friend Holden is going to take them to the Chinese New Year parade. But when Miss Chinatown, and her priceless crown, go missing the kids need to solve the mystery quickly, before Holden gets blamed. (ER-2/3)
The Chinese New Year Mystery : Nancy Drew Notebooks #39 by Carolyn Keene. Nancy’s class is celebrating Chinese New Year and she and her friends get to make the dragon! All their hard work is for nothing when the dragon goes missing. The parade will be cancelled if Nancy can’t solve the mystery quickly.
Happy New Year, Julie: American Girl by Megan McDonald. Julie’s first Christmas since her parents divorce is a difficult one, and she finds solace in helping Ivy prepare for her families’ Chinese New Year celebration. When she discovers that Ivy’s family is inviting her mom and dad to the party Julie worries that they won’t be able to get along and will ruin everything.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Minli has grown up hearing her father’s tales of the Old Man on the Moon and as her families fortunes are bleak she sets off one day to find him, and have him change her fortune. Throughout her journey Minli meets many characters who help her to learn the most important lesson of all – by appreciating what you already have you are the richest of all. (MR-4th & Up) *PBP All-Time Top-Ten Favorite*
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin. When a mysterious woman arrives in the village where Rendi is working as an errand boy she brings with her stories to share. Her wisdom opens Rendi to the possibilities of those around him,and helps him to see that to write the ending to his own story he needs to rethink his present. (MR – 4th & Up)
*2015 is the Year of the Sheep/Ram. Because the Chinese New Year is based on the Lunar calendar it fluctuates each year – occurring sometime between mid-January and mid-February. When determining what “year” you were born, check when the New Year fell during your birth year. For dates all the way back to 1930 click HERE.