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Celebrating Lunar New Year in the Classroom

Celebrating Lunar New Year in the Classroom

Lunar New Year, a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar, is observed by people around the world, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, as well as many people of Asian descent in other countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Every year, people from all over the world take part in the traditional celebrations and customs associated with this holiday. In 2023, Lunar New Year begins on January 22, and will be year of the rabbit.

Lunar New Year is a time of new beginnings and positive thinking where you leave the past behind and look forward to the good fortune that a fresh year will bring. Some celebrations can last up to 15 days and involve eating, dancing, visiting with family and loved ones, and watching fireworks. While you may not be able to celebrate for two weeks in your classroom, there are a few things you can do to welcome in the Lunar New Year with your students. Check out these five fun, classroom-friendly Lunar New Year traditions:

1. Learn about the Chinese zodiac:

For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese zodiac has been an integral part of Lunar New Year celebrations in many cultures, although some Asian countries have different zodiacs or do not observe the Chinese zodiac. The zodiac is made up of 12 different animals, each with its own set of special characteristics and attributes that have come to represent what the year will bring, depending on where the cycle falls.

During Lunar New Year, it is traditional to celebrate the zodiac animal of the current year, and many people will choose to wear clothing or accessories that feature the symbol of their zodiac animal, or give gifts that are associated with it. Chinese tradition says that the zodiac can help predict fortunes for the year ahead and help guide decision-making. Explore the legend behinds the Chinese zodiac with your class, and learn what animal rules over the year that they were born.

2. Watch a lion dance:

Lion and dragon dances are traditional performances that take place during Lunar New Year or other times of celebration. These dances are often performed by lion dance troupes, which are often made up of martial arts practitioners and performed in front of houses, businesses, and other public places during the Lunar New Year celebrations. Both lion and dragon dances are usually accompanied by drumming and cymbals, which are believed to scare away evil spirits.

Watch this video from the Boston’s Children Museum with your students to learn more about the history and art behind this dance.


3. Tidy up:

Another traditional Lunar New Year observance involves everyone’s favorite pastime—cleaning(ha!). According to tradition, cleaning before the new year begins sweeps out the old, bad luck from the past year and makes room for new beginnings and good fortune of the new year to come in. Encourage your students to spend five minutes or so cleaning out their desks or backpacks and recycling old papers and whatever else they may have managed to accumulate over the school year.

4. Wear red:

The color red is very important to the celebration of Lunar New Year. In Chinese culture, red is considered to be a lucky color and is believed to bring good luck, prosperity, and happiness. During Lunar New Year, it is traditional to decorate homes, streets, and businesses with red lanterns, banners, and other decorations. Red envelopes filled with money are also often given as gifts to children and unmarried adults during the holiday.

Legend says that in ancient times, a monster called Nian would appear on the first day of the new year and terrorize villages, but it was discovered that it could be warded off by fire, loud noises, and the color red. Today, many Lunar New Year’s celebrations incorporate fireworks, firecrackers, drums, and lots of red decorations and clothing. Encourage your students to wear red on Lunar New Year or pass out red stickers so that all students can have a little luck on their shoulders.

5. Stay positive:

Along with traditions to help attract good luck for the new year, avoiding unlucky words, also known as "taboo words," is associated with Lunar New Year celebrations in some cultures. This tradition involves avoiding certain words or phrases or negative topics that are considered to be unlucky during the Lunar New Year to avoid bringing bad luck or misfortune in the coming year.

Instead, people who observe this practice focus on positive things, such as good luck, prosperity, and happiness. Challenge your students to spend the day saying as many positive things as they can. How many compliments can they give to their classmates? What are they grateful for in the new year?

It's worth noting that not all traditions are practiced by every culture or family and that some of them may have variations and different meanings. Celebrating Lunar New Year in the classroom is a great way to promote cultural understanding and appreciation among students and to provide a fun and engaging way to learn about different customs and traditions. 

Did you know Edmentum has free classroom resources stuffed with fun lessons and activities your elementary students will love? Check out our Free Educator Resources!

This blog post was originally published on January 28, 2019, and has been updated.