Fun ideas around Chinese New Year for the bilingual child

Little Bilingual Chinese Toddler with qipao and red envelope

Learning about other cultures in two Languages: Chinese New Year

Our bilingual Advent Calendar was such a success that we thought, why not try to replicate it for Chinese New Year and give you a list of language-based activities that you can introduce to your bilingual family, while learning a bit about another culture, regardless of what languages you speak at home.

 

Chinese New Year basics

The lunar new year festivities, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, last for 15 days.  In 2020 they start on the 24th of January with New Year Eve and last until the 8th of February. with the Spring Lantern Festival (not to be confused with Mid-Autumn Festival, the Autumn Lantern Festival, which takes place in late September).

 

Chinese New Year celebrates the end of winter and the fertility and growth that come with spring.  The ancient legend says that a ferocious, big-mouthed beast called Nian (Year) tortured and devoured people until an old man tricked the beast and made it disappear. Nowadays the New Year festivities are all about family time and a prosperous new year.

 

The celebrations are everywhere and for example, China pretty much closes during this period. People travel to visit family throughout the country and abroad. 3 billion people…yes, you read properly that is 3000000000 people travel to see their family during Chinese New Year.

 

However, it is not only celebrated in China, but it is also celebrated by Chinese communities all over Asia and even in many western cities.  Try to find an open shop in your local Chinatown and you will probably have some trouble. It is a truly beautiful celebration that lasts for 15 days. If you have the chance to take your kids to have a glimpse at the astounding acrobatic prowess of a Lion Dance, the impressive fireworks or even just the decorations and flowers during this time, it is truly worth it.

You will for sure impress any little global citizen, Chinese speaking or not.

 

So for all those tiny bilinguals and open-minded, mini-globe trotters we thought why not copy our Bilingual Advent Calendar by TimTimTom in order to explain some of the celebrations that occur before and during the Chinese New Year, introducing you to some new bilingual language-based activities.

Chinese Zodiac by TimTimTom, an explanation by TimTimTom Books

Chinese Zodiac adapted from the Farmer’s Almanac

 

The Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac is a 12-year cycle, each year of this 12-year cycle is represented by an animal.

 

The Legend of the Great Race

The reason why the animals are placed in the specific order follows the ancient “Great Race” legend. The legend tells the story of the Jade Emperor, who was looking for 12 animals to become his guards.  The first to arrive at the Heavenly Gate would win the race.  As they had to crossed a river on the way to the Heavenly Gate,  the clever rat jumped onto the back of the diligent ox. The minute they reached the other side of the river, the rat quickly jumped off the ox’s back and made it first to the Heavenly Gate.  Hence the Zodiac starts with the Rat.

2020 is once again a start of a 12-year cycle and the Year of the Rat

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

What animal of the Chinese Zodiac sign are you? Look in the table above and check if the traits fit you or your kids’ personality. Practice your vocabulary around animals.  All of course in your minority language.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids to learn about Chinese New Year

 

We found a great arts and crafts idea to make a Chinese Zodiac Clock on Baker Ross. This way, as you are drawing the animals you can practice the names of the animals in both the languages.

Fun Fact:

A Chinese person will usually not ask you for your age but for your zodiac sign and easily know exactly how old you are…clever…ha?

 

 

Sweeping the House

Chinese New Year Traditions for bilingual kids - sweep the house cleanCleaning the house symbolizes sweeping out any misfortune or traces of bad luck.

However, make sure no cleaning is done during the first 3 days, some even say 5 days of the new year, otherwise you sweep all that good luck away.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

OK, the kids might complain and say this is bilingual child labour.  But you can make it fun by explaining to them in your minority language that it is an old Chinese tradition and that cleaning and decluttering the house before the end of the year, will allow the new year’s fortunes to enter the house. Go full Marie Kondo on them, but try to get your decluttered goodies onto good new hands.

 

Buying New Clothes

Buy new clothes for Chinese New Year a tradition for your bilingual familyWearing new clothes is supposed to represent a new start and fresh hopes for the New Year. Chinese usually wear red coloured clothes on New Year’s Day, to go with the festive and upbeat mood. Black and white should not be worn as black symbolizes bad luck, and white is a Chinese funeral colour.

Traditionally, this is the one yearly occasion in which the Chinese buy new clothes.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

A perfect moment to practice all that clothing vocabulary, maybe even the bits and bobs you usually don’t get to use.

 

Going for a Haircut

Child getting a haircut for Chinese New YearWhy not go for a haircut together, however, make sure to go before Chinese New Year, scissors should not be used in the first days of the new year in order not to cut your luck.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Extra kudos if you can find a hairdresser that speaks your minority language! What haircut do you want to get? Long, short, bangs, just the tips, use gel to style it, blow-dry or not.  All vocabulary you don’t use in the day to day at home, so get out and get your hair-lingo down.

 

 

Why Fish?

Chinese New Year Tradition of eating fish for good luckFish are believed to be a lucky New Year’s Eve food because their scales resemble coins, and they swim in schools, providing the idea of abundance. The Chinese word for fish “yú”, 魚, also translates to “abundance”.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

What type of fish? How would you prepare it?  What other ingredients do you need? How do you want to set the table? Loads and loads of new words, abundant new words…Chinese are wise…fish=abundant 🤩

 

 

 

Flowers, Flowers, and more Flowers

Chinese New Year Flowers to extend vocabulary of bilingual kidsIt is called Spring Festival after all. Flowers and plants play a central role.  A tree or plant that blooms during Chinese New Year represents new growth after the long, dead winter, and are important signs of life, good fortune, and fertility.

Here two blogs that detail the most popular flowers and plants during the Chinese New Year festivities:

13 lucky plants for the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Guide to Traditions and Symbolisms by TimTimTom Books

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Go to a flower market, smell the flowers blooming everywhere.  Talk about the colours and the shapes, try to describe the smells.

What do oranges have to do with Chinese New Year?

Chinese Bilingual Boy offering oranges for Chinese New YearTwo of the most common food symbols of the Chinese New Year are tangerines and oranges. They represent wealth (gold), good luck, happiness, and abundance.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Plant an orange tree on your garden or balcony, get your hands dirty. Talk about how things grow, why they need water, how they give us oxygen and why everything is growing in the spring.

 

 

Reunion Dinner

Family reunion for Chinese New Year in a Multilingual FamilyThis year New Year’s Eve is celebrated on the 24th of January, 2020. It is considered the most important family get-together meal of the entire year.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

If you are Chinese, the planning is probably already in full gear, however, if you are not why not organize an impromptu dinner. You might not have your real family in the vicinity, hence invite your “language-family”.  Friends that speak your minority language – even better if they have kids.

 

 

 

Make Dumplings…yum!

Bilingual Girl preparing dumpling for chinese New YearEvery culture has something similar, in Latin-America, we have empanadas, in Germany, they are called Teigtaschen.  Some are sweet, some are savory. In China the shape of the dumplings resemble old gold ingots, hence you will find them at every family meal during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Make some dumplings with this great recipe below. This is a family activity in which everyone gets their hands dirty, while discussing how the day has gone.

Pork Dumpling recipe by the Kitchn

 

 

Set off some Firecrackers (well kind of)

Chinese New Yaer Arts and Craft for Bilingual KidsSetting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve scares away evil spirits while sending out the old year and welcoming the new one.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Here some arts and crafts ideas you can make together instead of setting off real firecrackers 😅  Make sure to use your minority language when creating your worldly work of art.

 

Straw Rockets by Simple Play Ideas

Chinese Firecracker Decoration by West Coast Mommy

 

Make a paper lantern

Chinese New Year Paper Lanterns Arts and Craft for Bilingual and global minded Kids

 

Paper lanterns decorate every street, restaurant, house during the Chinese New Year celebrations.  It symbolizes the wish for a bright future, as spring is starting and the days become longer. In 2020, the Spring Lantern Festival, the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations will take place on the 8th of February.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

During the Chinese New Year, most lanterns are red, symbolizing happiness.  The lanterns often have gold writing on them, symbolizing good fortune.  Expand your children’s daily “minority language vocabulary” using words for cut, glue, glitter, paper, fold, etc.

Chinese New Year Lanterns by China Family Adventure

Chinese New Year Lantern by Lia Griffith

 

Let’s go and discover a Chinese temple

Plan a visit to a Temple during Chinese New year Activity ofr Bilingual and Global minded KidsIf you have a Chinatown near you, there will definitely be a Chinese Temple, sometimes they are tiny, but the incense stick smell during the Chinese New Year celebrations will clearly show you the way.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Visit a Chinese temple and compare it to other places of worship you have visited. Always using your minority language.

 

 

Hand out Red Packets

Chinese New Year Red Packets ACtivity for bilingual and global minded kidsThere is no return, once you start the kids will want them every year 🤩

Kids or unmarried members of the family and close friends are given red packets (lai see -Cantonese or hong bao – Mandarin) containing even numbered amounts of money. Never include money that amounts to a number containing a 4 (40, 400… why? Because 4 sounds like “death” in Chinese). The number 8, on the other hand, is considered good luck.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Create red packets together, have the kids fill them with little “love” notes to grandma and grandpa.  If you do not like the idea of filling the red packets with real money, you can fill them with golden chocolate coins.

Chinese Red Envelopes with Chalk Academy

Proper Etiquette for red packets

 

Enjoy an amazing Lion Dance performance

Lion Dance Performance for Chinese New Year an activity for bilingual and global minded kidsThis is my personal favourite.  I even cry when I watch a lion dance..cheezy, I know!

The lion is thought to be an auspicious animal that symbolizes courage, determination, and resourcefulness. Attending a lion dance performance, therefore, is believed to bring good fortune to those who watch it.

 

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Watch a lion dance on youtube and then try to copy it at home.  Use a bed sheet and let the kids jump on the sofas and chairs while beating a loud drum.  Your neighbours will loooove you…promised 😝.

 

Send Blessing Messages

Bilingual Kids learn about Bilingual Kids learn about Chinese New Year BlessingThe Chinese Blessing Messages are usually written in advance and hung on the front door, windows, and trees ( a bit like a Christmas tree).

Language Activity for Bilingual Kids:

Write a postcard to family members or friends far away. Tell them how much you miss them, they will be so happy to get a note from you and the kids and you can practice some writing skills with the kids.  If the kids are too young to write, send a hand-drawn picture.

 

Chinese New Year Blessings 101 for Multilingual Kids:

Chinese New Year Blessing by Bilingual Kidspot

Chinese New Year Greetings by just login

 

More detailed Chinese New Year Explanations:

8 Chinese New Year Traditions to explain to kids by Young Parents

Chinese New Year Guide by Miss Panda Chinese

 

Books about Chinese New Year we have enjoyed:

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong

My first Chinese New Year by Karen Katz

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year by Demi

 

Chinese New Year Song:

And one last goodie for you, one of the best known Chinese New Year children’s song Gōng Xi Gōng Xi in Chinese, English and Pinyin

Chinese New Year Song for Bilingual Kids Gong Xi

 

Gaby is the co-founder of TimTimTom Bilingual Personalised Books, she has been living in Hong Kong for the past 13 years and loves all the Chinese New Year Traditions.  As soon as she finished writing this article she rushed home, to finish decluttering before Chinese New Year. Kung Hei Fat Choy 恭喜發財 – Gong Xi Fa Cai 恭禧發財.


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