Introduction: why you should read this
Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival) is around the corner. If you teach Chinese students online, this blog gives you six ideas of how you can celebrate Chinese New Year with them. The first three parts – Chinese New Year; Chinese New Year Date and Chinese New Year Traditions provide some cultural context. The following parts cover some game ideas and some decoration ideas for your online classroom. I hope this blog adds a little bit of festive fun to your online teaching.
1. Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is the biggest festival for Chinese culture. It is a celebration with one’s family to embrace the end of winter season and the beginning of spring season when everything revives. Everyone, no matter how busy one is, takes a break to reunite with his/her family for big meals and happy times. A festival with almost 4000 years of history, it’s full of traditions such as giving Chinese New Year red pockets.
2. Chinese New Year Date
Chinese New Year date is based on the Chinese lunar calendar year. This traditional calendar reckons years, months, and days according to astronomical phenomena. This system, designed for the agricultural life system, divides every year into twenty-four solar terms. A Chinese New Year is the first day of the lunar calendar year and usually is sometime in January or February.
Chinese New Year Eve, the biggest evening event, is the night before. It is celebrated by a huge dinner feast with one’s immediate or sometimes extended family. The whole new year celebration can go on for two weeks but usually, the official Chinese New Year break lasts for about seven to ten days.
3. Chinese New Year Traditions
(1) Chinese New Year Food
Celebrating Chinese New Year Eve is probably the most important family matter each year. And the food is the most important element of this most important event. As Westerners indulge the meal with a lot of cakes and desserts, the Chinese indulge themselves with a lot of meat: pork, chicken, beef, lamb, seafood, etc. They are symbols of a plentiful and generous meal.
Many families will also make dumplings together from scratch. Sometimes a coin is put inside the dumpling fillings. The person who bites into the coin is considered to have good luck for the new year to come. In part 4 ‘Chinese New Year Games for your Online Classroom’, I have designed a game to learn ‘dumpling-making’ vocabularies.
(2) Spring Festival Gala
Spring Festival Gala is a phenomenal entertainment event for the phenomenal New Year Eve. The Gala party starts at 8 pm on New Year’s Eve and lasts until dawn the next day (officially the first day of the lunar year). The program is filled with shows by the most talented people in the country: singing, dancing, magic show, comedy shows and sketchy comedies, etc. The main party is live-streamed in Beijing with several sub parties being hosted paralleled around the country. At midnight, everyone synchronised to do the count down together.
Every year about 1.1 billion people watch the Spring Festival Gala. In terms of national significance, the closest Western equivalent I can think of is the US Super Bowl.
(3) Chinese New Year Animals
Chinese calendar years run on a repeating 12-year cycle. Each lunar year is assigned an animal. For people who were born during a particular lunar year, they will associate themselves with the assigned zodiac animal of the year. The twelve Chinese zodiac animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. For example, the year of Ox starts from the 12th of February 2021 so anyone born after/upon that day will be an Ox.
Talking about the 12 zodiac animals is a great conversation opener. There are 12 Chinese zodiac animal toys or finger puppets on Amazon or eBay if you would like to hold these animal objects for show and display. (But make sure the toys or puppets are the right animals). In part 4 ‘Chinese New Year Games for your Online Classroom’, I have designed a fun and educational game using these 12 zodiac animals.
(4) Chinese New Year Red Pockets
The new year holiday is also perfect for visiting relatives and friends to send each other Chinese New Year greetings. ‘串门’, the Chinese expression to describe these visits, can be literally translated as ‘moving doors’. While ‘moving doors’, adults will give Chinese New Year red packets to children. Red pockets are red envelopes adults give to children with brand new pocket money inside. That is one of the reasons why children are so excited about New Year.
Again, you can buy packs of red pockets online or in Chinese grocery stores. In part 4 I will share a game to ‘open red pocket, get your fortune’ to teach some good manners in English in a fun way.
(5) Chinese New Year Decoration
Red is the colour for happiness and fortune in Chinese culture and thus the default colour for Chinese New Year. Lanterns on the street, paper couplets at home, and dresses on people will be red, red, and red. It is considered impolite to wear white (a colour for mourning) for jubilant events such as weddings and Chinese New Year. In part 5 I will share some decoration ideas for your online classroom.
4. Chinese New Year Games for your Online Classroom
Chinese New Year Game: Who am I?
Chinese New Year Game: Animal Charades
The three games are designed as group games but you can alter them into games just between a teacher and a student if you teach 1-1 classes.
(1) 12 Zodiac Animals
- Culture context: The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme based on the lunar calendar in a repeating 12-year cycle. There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs, in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each sign is named after an animal, and each animal has its own unique characteristics.
- Outcome: Learn Chinese zodiac animals in English (for beginners); learn animal clues for extension
- Each child takes turns to introduce himself/herself (in Chinese): “I am XXX and guess which zodiac animal I am?”. He/she then performs the action of this animal or mimics the sound of the animal.
- The teacher takes out each zodiac animal card (with a picture of the animal and its English name) and asks the child to guess which animal is being enacted
- Other children guess (in English) which animal is being enacted
- Preparation: 12 zodiac animal cards (bilingual using Disney cartoon animal characters and Chinese cartoon animal characters).
- Extension: twelve zodiac animal clues (provided by teacher Elizabeth)
- Rat: I have a long nose.
- Ox: I have curly horns.
- Tiger: I like to roar.
- Rabbit: I have two tall ears.
- Dragon: I have scales like a fish.
- Snake: I can hiss.
- Horse: My shoes make a clip-clop sound.
- Goat: I am white and fluffy.
- Monkey: I eat bananas.
- Rooster: I flap my wings, but I don’t fly much.
- Dog: I wag my tail when I am happy.
- Pig: I am pink all over.
Chinese New Year Game: Who Can Make Some Dumplings
(2) Let’s Make Dumplings
- Cultural context: Most Chinese families spend Chinese New Year’s Eve together preparing dumplings before eating them at midnight. Dumplings signify a family reunion.
- Purpose: children learn cooking and kitchen-related English and gain ideas about cooking
- Outcome: Learn vocabulary through actions and real kitchen objects
- Prepare ingredients: The teacher shows cards of different ingredients in English and asks children to choose which ingredients are needed for making dumplings. Ingredient card ideas: flour (Yes), salt (Yes), cabbage (Yes), pork meat (Yes), ice cream (No), watermelon (No), …. When the group chooses ingredients together, the teacher can show real objects and ask students to repeat them in English.
- Get tools: The teacher shows cards of different cooking tools in English with pictures and asks children to choose. Tool card ideas: chopstick (Yes), rolling pin (Yes), big bowl (Yes), chopping board (Yes), knife (Yes), tong (No), coffee machine (No), toaster (No) …. After the group chooses tools together, the teacher can show real objects in the kitchen and ask students to repeat them in English.
- Make dumplings: Teacher teachers action words through body language (kneading, wrapping, boiling, frying, steaming). When the group learns these action words, they need to act together when the teacher says a particular action word.
- Preparation: Cards for ingredients and tools（bilingual）and real objects if possible.
(3) Open Your Red Pockets
- Culture context: At Chinese New Year, it’s tradition to give the gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope (known as 紅包, hóngbāo) to your friends and family. These are filled with money – and symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. The importance of the hóngbāo isn’t the cash held inside; it’s actually the envelope itself.
- Purpose: Learn how good manners in English
- Outcome: Practice basic English phrases to be polite, learn basic etiquette
- Each child takes turns to point at a red pocket from the teacher’s hand
- The teacher reads out the etiquette task in the red pocket. Each child who successfully performs the task wins a point.
- The teacher sums up the points earned by the children.
- Preparation: Red pocket cards with fortune tasks inside (bilingual)
5. Chinese New Year Decorations for your Online Classroom
(1) Window Flower (窗花)
窗花(Chuang Hua), literally translated as window flower, is a paper-cutting technique for window decoration. The colour is usually red to represent good fortune and these works of art are put on house windows, house mirrors and car windows. Unlike Kirigami , window flower only deals with two dimensions.
The patterns of window flower can be as simple as flowers, or as complicated as whole storytelling. Below is an example of a lotus patter window flower. You can also search for some YouTube videos if you would like to try it yourself.
(2) Fortune Arrival (福到)
The character 福(Fú) means”fortune” or “good luck”. It is often found during Chinese New Year on the house doors. However, you will find that character is usually put upside down. In Chinese, the word upside down 倒 (Dao) has a similar pronunciation as the word arrival 到 (Dao). Therefore, an upside-down fortune is interpreted as a fortunate to arrive.
For the fortune characters below, can you see which one is the upside down one?
(3) Door Gods (门神)
These Gods are ‘invited’ and posted on gates and doors to protect the family against evil influences or to encourage the entrance of positives ones. They are divine guardians are usually based on real heroic characters such as brave generals in the past.
I hope this blog helps you to create some jubilant festive atmosphere for your online classroom. You can also use these game ideas to have fun with your family and friends.
What do you do with your online students to celebrate Chinese New Year? Share your ideas in the comment box.
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Thank you Minji. You have helped me understand the cultural traditions further and provide ideas of how I can bring some of these customs in to my online classroom in a playful way.
I have taught over the Chinese New Year many times however have focussed primarily on decoration. This year perhaps I shall incorporate a few more activities in class too. Thank you for the inspiration Minji. 🙏
Enjoy the games, Karen and let me know if you create more fun games with your students. I am up for learning new ways to have fun!
Thank you. I really appreciate your information. As an online teacher, I can use this for shared conversations. I think it’s important to show interest in the culture and traditions of others as we build lasting relationships.
Hi, Teacher Onna, I love what you said about building lasting relationships. ❤️
Hi, Minji! Thanks again for sharing this blog post – certainly informative, insightful and provides great ideas that are relevant for online English teachers. Looking forward to more educational content from you. Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Hi Leo, it is great to hear that you find it informative and more importantly, you can have fun executing these ideas! Enjoy your teaching!
Im obliged for the article. Much thanks again. Really Great. Sal Nadal