February 10, 2010

Celebrating Chinese New Year


I think one of the really special and unique privileges we have as parents of children who were born in China is to expose them to Chinese customs and traditions.

Since Chinese New Year begins this Sunday, I thought I'd share a few ideas for celebrating Chinese New Year with your child, or with your child's class at school. I know that I've included more things than you will reasonably have time for at home, or during a class presentation, but I hope you find something here that inspires you in some way.

I've broken my suggestions into categories so you can skip right to a section that interests you instead of wading through all the information.

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These are eight children's books about Chinese New Year that I like. I'm sure there are many more great Chinese New Year books out there but I've actually read each of these and know that they're readily available on Amazon and many are available in local bookstores.

My creation

"Lucky New Year!," by Mary Man-Kong

This is a lift-the-flap book that has great interactive elements like oranges to smell and a wheel to turn to figure out which animal year you were born in but, because this book is interactive, it might be difficult to let a classroom of children try all of the things for themselves. This book is most-appropriate for younger children.

"Hiss! Pop! Boom! Celebrating Chinese New Year," by Tricia Morrissey

This is a much more detailed book that's appropriate for older children. The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the Chinese brush painting and beautiful calligraphy that illustrates the book.

"Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book," by Joan Holub

This is another fun lift-the-flap book that's probably most-appropriate for younger children.

"Bringing in the New Year,", by Grace Lin

If I was going to pick one book to read in a classroom for Chinese New Year, this would be it. I particularly like that this story is about a Chinese-American family and the Grace Lin illustrations are bright and engaging. Also, the text is very lyrical and perfect for reading aloud.

My creation

"Red is a Dragon," by Grace Thong and illustrated by Grace Lin

This is another Grace Lin book and it's really a color book that uses Chinese items as examples. It begins, "Red is a dragon Red is a drum Red are the firecrackers here they come!..." and would be perfect for a preschool class.

"The Dancing Dragon," by Marcia Vaughan

This is a rhyming book that is also beautifully illustrated. It's an accordion-style book that tells the story of the festivities of the Chinese New Year, culminating in a parade that includes a magnificent dragon carried on stick.

"Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!," by Demi

In this book Demi explains the rituals and ideas behind the Chinese New Year festival. The book is nicely illustrated and well-written.

"The Empty Pot," by Demi

This is one of my favorite children's books period. It's not specifically about Chinese New Year but it is about a little boy named Ping and a Chinese emperor looking for his successor. The story is straightforward and has such a lovely message about honesty and integrity. I also think the illustrations are truly beautiful.

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(The girls and I are in the process of making these crafts and I'll add pictures as we do.)

Paper Lanterns


Supplies You'll Need:
  • One sheet plus one strip of construction paper or other colored paper per student
  • A stapler or glue stick
  • Crayons, markers or stickers for decoration
  • Crepe paper


  1. Fold a rectangular piece of paper in half lengthwise, making a long, thin rectagle.
  2. Make a series of cuts along the fold line. When cutting the paper, leave about an inch of space from the edge. Make sure you don't make cuts too close to the edge of the paper.
  3. Unfold the paper.
  4. Using a stapler, connect the short edges of the paper together.
  5. Cut a strip of paper about six inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Glue or staple this strip of paper across one end of the lantern. This will be the handle of the lantern. You could also punch holes and use yarn or ribbon to create a handle.
  6. You can add strips of crepe paper to the inside bottom of the lantern so they hang below the bottom edge.
  7. If the students want to decorate their lanterns, they should color on the paper or add stickers before step 1.

Paper Bag Dragon Puppet

  • One sheet of white cardstock printed with dragon head (below) per student
  • One paper lunch bag per student
  • Three strips of crepe paper per student
  • Glue stick
  • Markers or crayons

  1. Use the dragon image below (if you click on the image it will take you to Flickr and you can download the image) and print it on white cardstock. You'll want to do a test print and adjust the size if necessary so it is the same width as a lunch bag. This image should print correctly.
  2. Give each child one dragon head, a paper lunch bag and three strips of crepe paper.
  3. Each child should color the dragon and then cut it out. (For smaller children you may want to pre-cut the dragons.)


  4. After the head is colored and cut out, glue it to the top flap of a paper bag so when a hand is inside the puppet the head will lift up and it will look like the mouth is opening and closing.
  5. Children can decorate the bag with markers or crayons and then glue the crepe paper streamers inside the bottom front of the bag so they hang down and make a tail.


    (And in case you're wondering why the dragon has crowns on it, it's because "it's Mulan's Chinese Dragon, because Mulan is Chinese, and of course her dragon would need crowns on it.")

Dragon Stick Puppets -- two variations

  • One sheet of white cardstock printed with dragon head per student
  • Three long strips of crepe paper per student or six strips of construction paper (2 inche wide by 6 inches long)
  • One popsicle stick or one unsharpened pencil per child
  • Glue stick
  • Tape
  • Stapler
  • Markers or crayons

  1. Use the dragon image below (if you click on the image it will take you to Flickr and you can download the image or you can print directly from Flickr but you'll get the text on the page as well) and print it on white cardstock. You'll want to do a test print and adjust the size as needed.
  2. Give each child one dragon head and three strips of crepe paper.
  3. Each child should color the dragon and then cut it out. (For smaller children you may want to pre-cut the dragons.)
  4. Glue or tape the crepe paper to the back of the dragon head.
  5. Tape the popsicle stick or unsharpened pencil to the back of the dragon head.

Another option is to have the children decorate six paper strips and then make a chain out of those strips. In step 4 the children would attach the paper links, instead of the crepe paper, to the back of the head. With this option the pencil has to go beside instead of on top of the paper links.

Dragon Head.png

If you're looking for a craft project that you can simply order, I think these Color-Your-Own Chinese calendars from Oriental Trading Company are great.

And I think these Magic Color Scratch Dragons are so fun too. I've actually ordered the dragons before and the kids loved them. One thing to know is that the dragons come with pointed sticks to scratch the designs on the dragons so if you're going to use them for preschoolers you'll probably want to substitute popsicle sticks.

I also really like these Accordion Dragons.

My creation

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Try Your Hand at Chinese Calligraphy

Invite children to try writing in Chinese calligraphy and create their own chun lian, special New Year's decorations.

Begin by passing out the worksheet below (click on it and it will take you to Flickr where you can download the full size) so the students can learn how to draw two Chinese characters that together mean Good Wishes for the New Year. Then give each child a square of red paper. Have them use a black crayon to copy the characters on their chun lian. (The squares of paper should be turned to be diamond-shaped.) You can punch a hole in one of the points of the diamond and add a ribbon so the chun lian can be hung.

Picture 2

Coloring Pages

Here are two coloring pages you can download and print out. (Just click through to Flickr and download the full-sized file.) I especially like these because they include both English and Chinese titles.

One more CNY thing.

One more CNY thing.

Lantern Parade

It's always fun to have a Lantern Parade in the classroom, or even in your house. You can have the kids make lanterns (see above) or provide them with lanterns that you've purchased. I've purchased lanterns very inexpensively in Chinatown, like the ones pictured below, but you can also order them online. If the students made dragon puppets they could also carry those in a parade.

My creation

You can find all kinds of great Chinese New Year music on iTunes. I downloaded "Splendid Jubilant New Year -- The Collection of Festival Music," by Xiao-Peng Jiang and The Chinese Orchestra of Shanghai Conservatory. It's a collection of songs, most of which are loud and festive and very parade-like, to celebrate the new year.


At the end of whatever you do, I'd give each child a hung bao (red envelope). You can put stickers in the envelope instead of money. I have always purchased the red envelopes in our Chinatown here but I know they are also sold in Asian grocery stores and at Hallmark! You can also order them here. It would be fun to have the students line up in order of oldest to youngest, just like is done in a Chinese family, to receive their hung bao.

You might want to include a little card in the envelope, or on a sticker on the outside of the envelope, very briefly explaining what Chinese New Year is so the children's parents will know something about the holiday when their child brings the hung bao home.


Here is some possible text:
Chinese New Year is the most important of the Chinese holidays and is a time of feasting, parades, fireworks and gift-giving. The holiday lasts for 15-days and because the Chinese calendar is based on the lunar year, the date of Chinese New Year changes every year. The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year pattern with each year named after an animal. This new year is the Year of the Tiger.

To celebrate Chinese New Year, children are given hung bao, or red envelopes, like this one with money in them by their relatives.

And finally, Oriental Trading Company is offering these classroom kits that include hung bao, lanterns, a coloring card and chocolate coins.


I know that there is a group of parents who also sell similar kits to raise money for their childrens' orphanage. I have ordered from them in the past and would be happy to include the information here if any one has it. I looked but couldn't find it.

The Jie Jie Foundation sells this kit for just $1.75 or 12 for $20. (Thanks Julie for this information!)


If you have other ideas, I'd love to hear them. Gung Hay Fat Choy!


  1. Is it JieJie Foundation? I've ordered from them before and the kits are really nice and already assembled!

  2. This is wonderful Kristi! You are amazing! Thank you so much!

  3. k1polzin5:56 PM

    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful ideas! One year we left our Christmas tree up(took off ornaments) and redecorated it with those little umbrellas that you get in drinks....along with the white lights it looked so pretty & festive for the Chinese New Year! It was so easy no hooks needed...just open them and push into the branch!

  4. Anonymous8:43 PM

    Oh my goodness, such great ideas! This post is a super resource -- thank you!


  5. What fun projects and ideas for Chinese New Year! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks for sharing all of this, Kristi! As usual, you are an amazing resource.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. these are great! thanks!

  9. Hooray! Thank you!! And Gung Hay Fat Choy!

  10. Excellent post, Kristi! I debated doing something for Caroline's class this year, but I'm going to wait till next year when she's in Pre-K. Thanks for all the resources!

    I almost emailed you. We were going to try to drive up to see the CNY parade in Chicago. Then my basement flooded, and that was the end of that plan! Indianapolis just doesn't have much of anything for celebrations, and the parade sounds very nice! I'm sure you've been. Anyway, if we ever head that way, I'll let you know!



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