Almost ten years ago, two crazy kids decided to sell off a bunch of their belongings and move to China to live and work there for a year. Most people thought we were crazy. There were times when we even questioned the rationality of that decision. But we ended up having the most incredible adventure and visiting places that I never dreamed I’d actually see in person.
We came back home with a newfound appreciation for Chinese food, culture, and ancient traditions.
While we harbor hopes of one day going back there with our children, for now we’re settling for celebrating the wonder and beauty of China right here at home in East Tennessee. What better time to do that than on Chinese New Year? The Chinese are not big on celebrating Christmas, so Chinese New Year is the (sing it with me) “most wonderful time of the year.” If you’ve been wanting to find a way to celebrate with your family (because honestly, after a year like 2020, we will take any chance we get to throw a party, am I right?), read on for some activities that your crew might enjoy.
This year, the celebration lands on Friday, February 12th. We’re saying zàijiàn to the year of the rat and welcoming the year of the ox. According to the Chinese Zodiac, I was born under the year of the ox (1985), which means I’m looking forward to having an extra lucky year this year. Learning a little bit more about the Chinese Zodiac (including which animal you were born under) is always a fun way to celebrate the New Year. Click here for a short cartoon created by Panda Express that explains both a little bit about the holiday and the origin of the Chinese Zodiac. Click here for a fun zodiac printable.
It’s always entertaining to try your hand at both speaking and writing a little bit of Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin, the phrase “Happy New Year” is pronounced Xīnnián kuàilè (she-knee-in kwai-luh) and is written 新年快乐. Here is a one-minute video tutorial in which a native speaker walks you through how to pronounce it. Here is a breakdown of how to write the Chinese characters.
I’m a teacher, and each year to celebrate Chinese New Year, I decorate my classroom and have my students create cards using red cardstock, lots of gold stickers and glitter glue, and they try their hand at writing “Happy New Year” in Chinese characters. We always find someone to deliver the cards to, whether it’s a Chinese exchange student or the guy who works at the local take-out restaurant. When you’re a Chinese person living in America, most people overlook that you are working/going to school on the biggest holiday of the year. It’s nice to share some acknowledgement and a small token of celebration!
I have some traditional red lanterns that I brought back from China that I use to decorate my classroom, along with lots of string lights and red crepe paper. However, if you don’t happen to have red lanterns on hand (who would??), it can be a fun activity to make them on your own out of paper! You can find a step-by-step tutorial here.
It’s not a celebration if there’s no food!
This part of the party can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. Chinese take-out is not hard to come by. Panda Express is celebrating by offering a family meal deal (three entrees and two sides) for $20 when you order online through their app. My family of four ordered it, and it was a feast (definitely enough to have leftovers the next day). However, if you’re looking to get some truly authentic Chinese food, you might try ordering from Asia Kitchen (in the Books-a-Million plaza on Kingston Pike). The Chinese exchange students that I’ve taught have always claimed that this is the only place in Knoxville that truly tastes like home. Right next door, you’ll find the Sunrise Market in case you’re interested in trying your own hand at cooking some Chinese cuisine. Just walking through the aisles and taking in the sights and smells will transport you halfway across the world (and you don’t even need a passport).
If you’re willing to brave the fire hazard, at night after dinner, you could indulge in some fireworks or even send off a paper lantern. These are easy to find on Amazon and they are a favorite cultural tradition! It’s customary to use a marker to allow everyone to write their wishes on the paper itself before lighting the wax and sending it off into the sky. Just be sure to send it off in a clear, open space to avoid lighting any trees on fire!
There are plenty of fun movies on Netflix that you can watch with your family to round off your New Year’s celebration. Beyond the obvious choices of Kung Fu Panda or Mulan, I’ve found a few movies on the streaming platform that unexpectedly celebrate Chinese culture. Abominable is the story of a girl living in Shanghai named Yi who unexpectedly encounters a Yeti and ventures to return him to his home on Mount Everest. The Karate Kid (the 2010 version starring Jaden Smith) is the story of 12-year old Dre, a boy who moves to China with his single mom and struggles to fit in with the culture and the kids at his new school (until learning some sweet martial arts moves from the maintenance man in his apartment building, played by Jackie Chan). The newest title to hit Netflix is Over the Moon, a cartoon about a girl named Fei Fei who, feeling lost after the death of her mother, decides to build a rocket that can fly over the moon, in effort to visit the moon goddess Chang’e (voiced by Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo).