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Vertical Banners Set with Hand Drawn Chinese New Year Monkeys. Vector Illustration. Hieroglyph stamp translation: monkey. Symbol of 2016. Chinese Decorative Clouds, Flowers and Chinese Lantern

Activities to Teach About Chinese New Year

February 3, 2016

At their young ages of 4 and 7, my kids know a little more than the average American kid about Chinese New Year but not a lot. This is, in part, because my brother, sister-in-law and nephew live in Beijing and, in part, because I’m interested in the Chinese years myself.

What my kids mostly know about are the animals that represent the years that they were born in. My daughter and I are both the year of the rabbit. My son is the year of the rat (well, he’s a New Yorker…) and my husband is the year of the ox. Beyond that, they start quizzing me on other people which, unless I have the list of years and twelve animals of the zodiac in front of me or I happen to know the information off-hand, I’m unlikely to know.

Monday, February 8, 2016 marks the beginning of the year of the monkey and the Chinese New Year. My brother and sister-in-law will be going to visit her parents, as is the custom to visit one’s family, one’s elders, for the New Year. Here, in New York, there will be the 17th New York Lunar New Year Firecracker Parade Carnival in Chinatown, an East Side celebration , and additional carnivals or parades in Staten Island, Brooklyn , and Queens . The Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo will have special events like puppet shows, scavenger hunts, and crafts projects to celebrate the New Year. There will be a celebratory concert at the Philharmonic, music and dance celebration at the Bronx Museum of the Arts , and a special Year of the Monkey exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art  that will run into July. The Museum of Chinese in America  is holding a full day festival, complete with activities for kids, storytelling, dances and noodle pulling demonstrations. The New York Chinese Cultural Center will be presenting dance, theater and martial arts demonstrations.

Thankfully, New York will be celebrating the Lunar New Year throughout February. However, since we’ll be traveling and won’t be able to attend a lot of these events, I am planning to get some books about the Chinese New Year, some folklore, some explanatory, so my children can better understand the holiday their cousin celebrates. I remember that, two years ago, my son’s school did a celebration of the year of the horse through artwork. Red, the traditional color of luck and celebration in China, ran thematically throughout the children’s artwork. There are some books on Chinese New Year’s crafts projects but I might encourage them to use their imaginations to draw the year of the monkey, since the animal is what is important to them.

Since I am also in theater, it occurs to me that another fun activity would be to have them emulate the different zodiac animals. Jump around like a monkey! Walk carefully like a goat (the year we are leaving). Be your own zodiac animal! It could easily be a game.

I’m mostly looking to raise a little more awareness on their part and I’m looking to do it at their level of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get to some of the celebrations when we return and they’ll know a little more about Lunar New Year by then.

Elana Gartner

Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Mom365.com, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.