A Multicultural Study:  Chinese New Year

By: Gloria Massey, Farrington Grove School
       Terre Haute, Indiana, June 30, 2000

Grade levels: K-3, three-day lesson plan

Purpose: In this multicultural study, children will become aware that they live on one planet but their festivals and holidays vary .The customs and beliefs of the Chinese people will become real and meaningful to children as they learn about and experience the Chinese New Year.

Geography Standards:

#1 How to use maps to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
#10 The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of earth's cultural mosaics
#18 How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards:
World Cultures: Students will demonstrate that people have similarities and differences and that people learn from each other in many different ways.

Materials required:

Objectives: Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:
  1. Locate China on a world map
  2. Discuss how the Chinese New Year's celebrations compare with New Year's or other holiday activities the children do within their culture
  3. Draw a picture and write a story about an animal of their choice from the Chinese Zodiac

Pre-activity information:
The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festive, is the most important holiday for the Chinese. The celebration begins on the first day of the lunar calendar (in mid-January or Mid-February) and lasts 15 days, beginning with New Year's Eve and ending with the lantern festival at the full moon. Since the holiday is so special, people start preparing for it ahead of time. A week before the holiday, people sweep out their homes to get rid of bad luck.  People shop for new clothes and get their hair cut to begin the year with a fresh start. They also buy plants and blossoms for symbols of spring and birth, and foods like oranges for symbols of good fortune. The New Year's Day feast takes a long time to prepare. The menu for the meal is carefully planned to include many foods with special meanings. Families and friends gather together, give gifts, eat special foods, enjoy parades and watch fireworks.  On the fifteenth day of the Spring Festival, the Chinese celebrate with a lantern festival. Lanterns of all shapes and sizes are hung everywhere to light the night sky.

Day 1- Locate China on a world map or globe. Have children color China on individual world maps. Read and discuss one of the books on customs of Chinese New Year. Have children make lanterns for the lantern festival to decorate the room. Start by using watercolors to paint Chinese motifs or an original design on 18 x 12 paper. Let dry overnight.

Day 2- Review from yesterday. Read another book on China.  Put together lanterns:

  1. Using the picture painted yesterday, fold paper lengthwise with the decorations out.
  2. Starting at the fold, make evenly spaced cuts about 1" apart, ending where you began.  Draw ending line for children if needed.
  3. Open the paper and staple together the short edges.
  4. Stuff middle with crumpled yellow tissue paper.
  5. Staple a strip of 1 "x 6" construction paper to make the handles.
  6. Add tissue paper or crepe paper streamers to bottom.
  7. Hang lanterns around the room.
Day 3- Discuss the Chinese Year from the first two days. On chart paper compare how the children celebrate New Year with how the Chinese celebrate
their New Year.  Read a book that explains the Chinese calendar. Have a copy of the Chinese zodiac so the children can find the animals for their birth year.   The Chinese traditionally believe that people born in the year of a certain animal exhibit particular characteristics.  After discussing which characteristics the animals have for the years the children were born, have the children choose one animal, draw a picture of it and write a story about how the characteristics of that animal compares to a person born in that year.

Extensions: Have the children research other Chinese customs for the Spring Festival.  What foods do the Chinese eat during the Spring Festival and why are they symbolic?

Evaluation: Have the children draw a picture and write a story about how they would celebrate if they were in China for the Spring Festival.