Monday, January 25, 2016

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Kids

I asked Andy to get ONE photo of me holding the lanterns... 
I love Chinese New Year's.  Growing up, Chinese New Year was a HUGE deal.  Though we didn't celebrate it with lots of crafts the way I do with my kids now, there was a lot more Chinese stuff going on around home.  We'd always watch a lion dance, a dragon dance, go somewhere to see fireworks, clean the house, wear red, get red envelopes, and eat a grand meal with shark fin's soup, fish, noodles, pig's feet, green veggies, and to be honest, a ton of stuff I can't even correctly translate from Chinese to English, along with lots of random dried fruit, candy, and nuts with all of our extended family in Los Angeles.  In China and Taiwan, Chinese New Year's is like Christmas in the States.  People go all out.  Everyone gets the day off, I think some even a few weeks.

Now that I'm in Salt Lake City as a token minority, I've felt more of a desire to keep up the cultural traditions and create some new ones for my kids.  As we gear up for Chinese New Year's, here are some of the top EIGHT (ba sounds like fa which is to prosper so 8 is a lucky number) traditions I've begun with my kids.

8. Wear Chinese clothes or the color RED - As corny as I thought it was to dress my kids up in Chinese garb (because we never did that for Chinese New Year's even though I wore a qi-pao for my wedding), once I was in Salt Lake City, I felt like my kids had to get some cute Chinese clothes to represent (especially since a ton of white kids and hapa kids were all wearing authentic traditional clothes!).  I finally asked my mom to get me some cute clothes for the kids, to which she was a bit surprised.  That's so tacky, she told me in Chinese.  Yeah, but everyone does it here and I don't want my 3/4 asian kids to be the only ones not dressed to represent!  So she went to get me some.  Yay!  I might even put my kids in their Chinese clothes for the Sunday weekend before Chinese New Year's, I haven't decided if I want to make that kind of a cultural statement so boldly yet.  Maybe tops with slacks?
Bubba running!
Jordan loving his outfit...
I told them these were ninja clothes and they bought it...
then I corrected myself and said Kung Fu but it was too late
now they keep wearing them while playing ninja

 this lil girl wanted in on the fun, she looked like a lil Chinese maid servant from my days of watching Chinese soap operas from ancient times...
Bubba was amused...
7. Talk about our ancestors - Pretty much all the holidays Chinese people celebrate seem to surround ancestors, even if it's not directly to honor them, they are remembered as we celebrate with family.  I know we don't have a shrine in our home with photos of dead grandparents or random Chinese gods, but I'm used to putting a lot of fruit and dim sum delicacies (baos, marinated pig ears, luo buo gao, etc.) in front of the photos of my dead grandparents as a way of honoring and including them in our celebration.  Though I don't plan to do that, I want to get photos of ancestors and share a bit about them with my kids.  I have so many stored away stories of my own grandparents and I'll get some of Andy's to share as well, and we can share with the kids.  Knowing my kids and how much they love a good story, I think they will dig this.

6. Decorate The House!
We love putting up decorations around the house.  We made some awesome red paper lanterns (see photo above) and anyone can do the same following this tutorial, my only suggestion is to add some bling like we did!  We added a strip of gold to the tops, the gold paper can easily be purchased at your local craft store, (we went to Michael's and used our coupons, yes, every little bit counts.. even on something $1), and for those who don't have the time or patience, use these easy printouts to frame and put up in the house (comes as 8x12).  You can print it on your computer or send it to Costco to print.
Download Chinese New Year Year of the Monkey print here
Better than nothing, right?!  Of course, you could always go the route of having your kids color, and then put those up too.  I've got a fun little monkey coloring sheet that we're going to use.
Click here to download PDF

And these are my other favorite sheets that I've chosen to use this year.  
Zodiac animals coloring sheet
Chinese Zodiac cards - have kids color, print, and cut out as flash cards

Here's an easy DIY we did this year, just using toilet paper rolls, red construction paper and a gold glitter pen... decorate red paper with drawings, let dry, glue or tape red construction paper around toilet paper rolls.  Repeat 6 times.  Then, stagger and hang together to mimic the look of red firecrackers used on CNY to scare away bad spirits and as tradition says, the monster Nian! (syonymous with year)

5. Learn to say... "Gong Xi Fai Tsai!" (Mandarin) or "Gong Hay Fat Choi!" (Cantonese)
Say it, repeat it, learn it, say it again... repeat it again... learn it over and over.  It's important that my kids know how to wish someone a happy Chinese new year.

So... there's this annoying Chinese New Year song that we all sung growing up over and over again that basically repeats gong xi fa tsai which is what we say during the New Year's, loosely translated as fortune and luck be with you but literally is more like congratulations, hope you strike it rich (Chinese people love money).

There is the cutest Ni-Hao Kai Lan video that we watch over and over that basically does a cover of this song.  I love it, and so do my kids!

4. Make stuff for the neighbors
I'd never do this in California, but with us being token minorities in SLC, I felt it was important to do something for the neighbors and give them the opportunity to celebrate and learn a bit about our culture.

Two years ago, we made horse printouts and almond cookies (they weren't very good though...), a year ago I was too tired with a new baby, and this year, we'll probably just buy some almond cookies and package them.  Keep it simple, right?

3. Talk about the Chinese Zodiac - Did you know there are twelve animals that represent each year of the Lunar New Year?  There's a story of the race that goes with it that kind of describes the order, but really it's just fun.  I like to go over everybody in our family and what animal they are.

My kids will tell you what they are in a heartbeat, but then they'll follow it up with what they'd rather be.  This year, it's the year of the monkey so we'll probably color a bunch of monkey sheets, hence why I created some for them (above).

2. Eat Chinese food - Traditional Chinese New Year's food varies depending on what province you're in.  It's easier to just do some bakeable frozen egg rolls, dumplings, and fried turnip cakes (luo buo gao - Andy's mom makes these every year) most of which, you can probably find in the your local grocery freezer section (thank goodness for diversity being so cool these days!).  

This year, I also plan to take my kids to the nearest Chinese bakery and let them choose some fun delicacies.  Chinese bread is so soft and fluffy, everyone loves it, but since we're in SLC, it's not as readily available nor is it cheap (compared to Arcasia).  

I also like to get almond cookies, not fortune cookies (because fortune cookies are NOT Chinese!), drink some Yakuit yogurt drinks (because that's seriously all they drink in Taiwan for bento boxes sold everywhere), have some glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) in red bean soup (yes, I can make it!  It's just red beans plus a ton of sugar), and Chinese bread (baos), throughout the weeks leading up to the day.  I always also bread (egg, flour and water) some nian gao or sticky rice cake, but from experience, I've figured a lot of people are not use to the texture so it might not be the best idea to cook up a batch and bring to work for your co-workers (the Chinese client will love it though...!).  

The weekend of, our family normally goes to the Chinatown buffet and our Uncle Ike aka Sparky, who is a fireworks dealer, normally has a fireworks show that night (if you're in SLC, it's at the Chinatown plaza on State State) and it's normally awesome.  

1. Hand out Red Envelopes - In Mandarin, these are called hong baos or red envelopes and in Cantonese, they are called lai si.  My kids get red envelopes from my family all the time, it's an easy birthday present, but it's really important for me to tell them the ancient Chinese legend about how red envelopes came about, and then we figure out who we can give them to - friends, family, etc.  Traditionally, only married couples give red envelopes to all single children (meaning if you're 30 and unmarried, you still get an envelope!)  

Chinese New Year like the American New Year celebration is really about cleaning up, pushing out all the bad spirits of the year, starting over fresh and clean, celebrating with family, and hoping for a year full of fortune, prosperity and good things!  Happy Chinese New Year to everyone, Chinese or not!! Gong xi fai tsai!  Gong hay fat choy! 

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