Chinese New Year is one of my favorite Chinese holidays (in addition to the Mid-Autumn Festival) because it symbolizes good luck and fortune, a fresh new start, and the promise that spring (and warm weather!) is around the corner.
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, and this year it starts on Friday, January 31 and ends on Friday, February 14. And in the Chinese zodiac, it's the Year of the Horse. Even if you're not Chinese, you can still ring in the New Year at home with your kids. Here are eight (a lucky number in Chinese culture) simple and fun ways you can celebrate during the two weeks.
Clean and de-clutter your home - It's important to clean your house a few days before the New Year begins to sweep out bad luck and make way for good luck. So get an early start on spring cleaning -- wipe dirt off the floors and windows, remove dust from tables, throw out old and broken things (including dishes and bowls), and organize everything from top to bottom.
Decorate the house in red and gold - Red and gold are lucky colors because they convey happiness and prosperity. Traditionally, paper cuttings and firecrackers, poetry scrolls, and signs with the Chinese character for good fortune are displayed on doors and walls. If there's a Chinese grocery store in your neighborhood, you can look for decorations. Otherwise, purchase red and gold streamers and garlands to hang around the house, or print out images of horses and the good fortune character and glue them onto red/gold papers.Visit Pinterest for DIY Chinese New Year decoration ideas, including these pretty paper rosettes.
Set out some sweets - It's tradition to eat candies and candied fruit to sweeten the New Year. Buy bags of your favorite candy (or dried fruit and chocolates) at the local supermarket and set them out in small, pretty dishes. Or find a traditional Chinese candy box or bags of red-and-gold wrapped "lucky candy" at local Chinese stores (even Amazon.com has them). Better yet, indulge in a limited edition box of Godiva's Lunar New Year chocolates. The beautiful red-and-gold box includes six pieces of horse-stamped truffles in three flavors (white chocolate pineapple macadamia, milk chocolate cherry almond, dark chocolate caramel pear). The folks at Godiva were kind enough to send our office a sample box, and we gobbled them up -- everyone loved the creaminess and subtle sweetness of the truffles. Plus, other Lunar New Year chocolates from Godiva are available.
Give out lucky red envelopes - Red envelopes filled with money are always given as gifts during the New Year, usually by older, married couples to kids and single adults. If you also can't find red envelopes at a specialty store, pick up some regular red envelopes or make your own from red paper and then decorate them with gold pens and images. (Side note: The Godiva chocolate box also comes with red envelopes.) Don't break the bank by stuffing envelopes with a ton of money; for kids, a few dollars or coins (including gold-wrapped chocolate ones) would do. Just avoid giving money in fours (4, 14) or odd numbers (5, 7), which is bad luck.
Prepare some meaningful dishes - You don't have to master any complicated Chinese recipes to eat foods usually found during New Year feasts. Instead, cook simple foods that have special meaning. Fill your table with long, uncut noodles (symbolizing long life), chicken (family unity), fish (abundance), and dumplings (prosperity, because they look like gold ingots). Don't have time to cook? It's fine to order these dishes from a local take-out or to dine at a local buffet.
Have oranges for dessert - Oranges are a must-have during the New Year because they symbolize good luck, good fortune, and abundance. So pick up some mandarin oranges, tangerines, or clementines at the local market and snack on them during the day or after meals. You can also set them out on plates or in bowls as decoration or give them as gifts (in addition to red envelopes).
Watch dragon and lion dances - Head to a Chinatown near you to watch the annual dragon dance and lion dance, where performers dance to the sounds of drums and cymbals. These animals symbolize strength, ferocity, and dignity and are said to drive away bad spirits. Firecrackers and fireworks may also be seen and heard during performances at nigh. If you can't make it to a Chinatown, make a dragon marionette and put on a mini dragon dance of your own, or make these mom-approved fireworks at home.
Craft your own paper lanterns - A Lantern Festival, where lanterns are lit, hung, or paraded through the streets, marks the last day of celebrations (when there is also a full moon). Instead of buying lanterns, follow our craft expert's how-to instructions for making crepe paper lanterns and baby food jar lanterns. Just make sure to use red/gold crepe paper or paint as your colors. Or follow these Kaboose.com guidelines or find a lantern project on Pinterest. Insert and secure electric candles or tea lights into the lanterns, hang them up in the yard or the house, and then watch them glow.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Translation: Happy New Year!)
Now is a great time to introduce your child to Mandarin Chinese with the help of our printable flash cards.
Image: Two mandarin oranges put on red packets via Shutterstock