Celebrating Chinese New Year with Kids

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Kids
Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans

Gung Hay Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year is on Sunday, February 10th, and this year is the year of the Snake. Here are some ideas of how you can celebrate the start of the Year of the Snake with your whole family and introduce your kids to the wonders of China.


Motivating your tween to clean at any time isn’t easy, but this weekend, tell them about the tradition of cleaning the home just prior to the start of the Chinese New Year. It is believed that cleaning will rid your home and yourself of the bad luck of the previous year, making your home open for the good luck of the coming year.

Do not, however, sweep on New Year’s Day, as Chinese tradition holds that you could be sweeping your luck right out the door.

Zodiac – 2013 is the Year of the Snake

Legend has it that Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he ID-100128827named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese Zodiac relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes on a 12-year cycle. People born in each animal’s year would take on some of that creature’s characteristics.

Have your tween look up the symbols for each family member using the chart in this Wikipedia article on the Chinese Zodiac. My tween, born in 2002, was born in the year of the Horse.

In Chicago’s Chinatown, there is a statute for each animal in the zodiac lining a square. Each statute includes character traits for those born in that years of that animal. When we visited as a family, it was pretty astonishing to read the descriptors and realize that they exactly matched up with the family member born in that year.


One of my daughter’s favorite books in early elementary school was Ruby’s Wish. While a picture book, this book works for old elementary kids and tweens, too. There are some literary devices, including symbolism such as goldfish in a pond that is freezing, that goes over the head of younger readers that tweens can handle.It’s the story of a girl in China whose grandfather did well in the gold rush in California and returned to his native land. Because of his wealth, his granddaughter, Ruby, is one of the few girls in the town to be educate. She discovers a love of learning, but means both hard work in the present and that she will face hard choices as she becomes a young woman. The climax of the book coincides with Chinese New Year.

The-Star-Maker-Yep-Laurence-9780060253158The Star Maker by Laurence Yep is more aimed at tweens in grades 3-6. Booklist says, “The year is 1953, and Artie is the smallest and youngest child in his extended family. Tired of being teased, he blurts out that he will provide fireworks for everyone on Chinese New Year. But where will he get the money to make good on such an extravagant promise? His kindhearted uncle Chester promises to help buy them, but when hard times come, it appears that even Uncle won’t be able to help. Perhaps, as Uncle likes to say, where there’s a will, there’s a way…. Readers will find out in this charming and suspenseful story. In the meantime, they’ll discover any number of traditional Chinese customs that Yep skillfully weaves into his story and explains in an informative afterword, which is accompanied by a brief bibliography of sources.”

Also consider A to Z Mysteries Super Edition #5: The New Year Dragon Dilemma, about a missing girl and missing crown in the middle of the New Year parade in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

I’m afraid I haven’t been able to hit a great book about Chinese New Year for middle school students. If you know of one, please share it in the comments!


You can always order your favorites from the local Chinese restaurant, but remember few people in China have any idea what kung pao chicken is. Find more traditional dishes and check out recipes with your tween on the Food Network’s Chinese New Year page here. I’m excited to try the lettuce wraps on this page of recipes for Chinese New Year.

Consider, too, the symbolism of food found in both Chinese and Western culture. NationsOnline.org explains: “Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings) are used. Names of dishes and/or their ingredients which will be served sound similar to words and phrases refering to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning.”

For example, a whole chicken symbolizes togetherness.  Tangerines and oranges can bring good fortune and prosperity. Mushrooms mean you will be successful.

Lucky Money

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Small red envelopes filled with money called lai see are traditionally given to children during this time. It often referred to as lucky money. If you’refeelinggenerous, lai see with a crisp one dollar bill in them would be fun. When I got lucky money envelopes in Chinatown a few years ago, I didn’t realize how many were in a package. There are a LOT of envelopes. I am not that generous.

Check Out Chinatown

Many cities have CChinese New Yearhinatown, and they’re a wonderful place to immerse your family in another culture without traveling far. The festive atmosphere at the New Year is absolutely worth the trip. I know for many of you its cold, or a bit of a haul. Consider doing it anyway, at least once. My tween still talks about the New Year parade we attended a few years ago.

Be sure to check dates and times, though. In Chicago, the parade and celebration are taking place on Argyle street on Feb. 16 and in Chinatown on Wentworth Ave. on Feb. 17, both starting at 1 p.m. If visiting Chicago’s Chinatown, check out the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, which is hosting a celebration on Sat, Feb. 9.


The Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year, but it is always on the second moon after the winter solstice.

May this coming lunar new year be one full of health and prosperity for you!

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