Chinese New Year Events 2018

China Trade Center, Boston

As we approach Lantern Festival this week, I’m pleased to share my favorite post of the year chronicling my Lunar New Year events. Each celebration offered a distinctly different approach and cultural experience, and I’ve come away with many warm memories and inspiring ideas. I also have an even deeper understanding of the significance of celebrating Chinese New Year with my family, friends, and the many communities I visited. I’ll let the photo gallery illuminate each account.

Our local CAFAM ‘Year of the Dog’ festival in Westbrook, Maine was a much-anticipated reunion with many old friends. My daughter got in the mix, working at one of the craft stations for the day along with a terrific bunch of other high schoolers from the Portland area. This event required a substantial amount of planning and pre-event craft preparation, and as a board member I had my eyes and ears on many aspects of the jam-packed schedule. It was also our organization’s first year hosting the event under dynamic new leadership. I designed some new crafts including a ‘dragonfly copter’ and of course had lots of ‘dog’ themed activities. The craft area was bustling all day as the excited kids hustled from one table to the next, not wanting to miss a project.

Then off to the lovely Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. I designed original shadow puppets for their maker area to give a nod to their current PlayTime and upcoming China Empresses exhibits. Their ingenious creative director made a lit multiple puppet stage area so the kids could take their assembled and decorated puppets right across the room to play. PEM also had a second art drop-in area to make the ‘Year of the Dog’ pendant from my book. I loved how the directions were clearly displayed and the supplies were beautifully organized for the hands-on crafts. With both of these offerings, I’ve never seen the concepts, instructions and designs from my book taken to such a high level. Since its inception, I’ve really hoped the book would be a “workhorse” tool that readers could expand into full activity days and programs and I saw that come to life (yet again) at the PEM Lunar New Year event.

My last event was on a soggy, gusty day in Chinatown, Boston but nothing could dull the bright faces, pops of firecrackers and drum beats. We were welcomed to the China Trade Building at setup time with fresh-baked pork buns (at which point I knew this was going to be a great day) and had a very popular table all day, crowded with creative kids. After the Cultural Village ended and the last scraps were cleaned up, rather than hustling out of Boston I took a pause with my daughter and we had a meal at Gourmet Dumpling House. Outstanding food in a tiny, chaotic dining room. The gray, drizzled light was dimming outside but the lion dance troupes were still passing by the window now and then, with their drums and seemingly unlimited energy. I truly felt the soul of China that day.

So that’s where my focus has been for several weeks. One last bit of news… Wes Radez of the Chinese American Family website has posted a profile about Lucky Bamboo Crafts and a lantern tutorial, perfect for the aforementioned Lantern Festival on March 2nd. This Oakland, CA based company puts out wonderful, informative content on all aspects of Chinese culture and how to share it with your family and community.

Until next time, I wish you a most auspicious year ahead.

Giving Thanks, Sharing Culture

Welcome back! A highlight of this Fall was my California Bay Area trip in October. Although I had a heavy heart for all the suffering in the North Bay as the fires were blazing, I was able to enjoy my smoky travels and saw several wonderful friends. And oh my, we found the most amazing Chinese homemade noodle and dumpling restaurant in Oakland Chinatown!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back home and to the Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor. I got to exhale this year and be an exhibitor only. Mingling and taking part in the workshops was much less stressful than being a keynote, as I had done for the last two years. Of course the small detail of much of it being presented in Mandarin was daunting but motivating. At least I got to train my ear, but I can’t accurately relay the high points, sorry! I did get to present a copy of  Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts as a gift to the visiting Consulate General of China from New York.

Then Thanksgiving came along… the kickoff to the long, multi-culture, multi-faith string of holidays. A wonderful board member from our local Chinese friendship organization described her blend of cultures at Thanksgiving, growing up Chinese-American which I thought was so interesting as we all consider what we include in our own family traditions.

“Growing up as a Chinese-American kid in Ohio and Maryland, we did not have the usual Thanksgiving meal. My mom always said that turkey is “too tough” and had no interest in making one for Thanksgiving, so we would have a big Chinese feast, with duck and soup and dumplings and a million other dishes–which was all delicious, of course. The only problem was going to school and having teachers talk to the class about eating turkey and stuffing and all of that, and feeling like the only kid who did not do that. It didn’t bother me terribly (in part because I was quite happy with what we ate instead), but it underscored the feeling of not being entirely “American.”

Now, with my own family, my kids are very, very into the full-on American Thanksgiving meal, and they love to help cook the various side dishes. For me it sometimes feels a bit like I’m just imitating a tradition, but I do see how we’re in the process of creating our own tradition. We do sometimes insert a bit of Asian influence into the meal, such as a sticky-rice stuffing that’s basically a Chinese dish. Either way, sitting down together for a big, festive meal is certainly a wonderfully universal tradition.”

Maybe my friend’s words echo your own experience. Even as I wrap presents and plan for the Christmas break, the upcoming ‘Year of the Dog’ is on my mind. Our local Lunar New Year planning is well underway and I better start thinking up some awesome crafts that bark! Please check my event calendar as craft dates get set. I’ll also use this time of year to step out of my busy routine to not only think to the future, but reflect on all the people, places and experiences that made my ‘Year of the Rooster’ a good one.

Lunar New Year; Celebrating with Lucky Bamboo Crafts

Chinatown, Boston, MA

We had a spectacular Lunar New Year season sharing crafts at events and I’ll get right into the highlights. This photo gallery should help illustrate all the fun! I got to roll out some new ideas, toss around some Mandglish, and celebrate from different venues and perspectives. I’ve been waiting a whole year for my favorite holiday!

First up, I constructed a dragon (from my book) for Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, to use at their spectacular event that draws huge crowds. I thought their idea of the kids creating their own “scales” to apply to the train worked out beautifully!

Our local CAFAM organization celebrated with performances, food, workshops, and crafts in Westbrook, Maine. This was my biggest commitment, as I designed/selected all the crafts, purchased materials and handled set up for a large area of table stations, which I supervised throughout the day. To my delight, I caught up with several old friends and their (much grown!) China adopted kids. I was also able to share ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ with some new enthusiasts!

I volunteer with my daughter at an after school program and got to share some traditions of Chinese New Year with our lovely, energetic little group. Most of the kids are new African immigrants and we had some fascinating conversations about different cultural celebrations and norms, and they even picked up a few words of Mandarin.

Next stop, Boston, MA, for a truly exciting day with ‘Chinatown Main Street’, the key organization for Chinese events in the city. It was held at the China Trade Center on a day of crazy, snowy weather, but we would not be deterred and traveled down from Maine. The site was alive with activity and drumming, as frequent Lion Dance troupes came through, hungry for hong bao, lettuce and oranges to start an auspicious year. There were also scheduled performers, a few vendors and some Chinese artisans.

All the ‘Year of the Rooster’ events brought back so many sweet memories of when my nearly 15-year old daughter was young and she was the “customer” at the craft tables and activities. Now she stays by my side, setting up the crafts, guiding the kids, answering questions, and keeping everything moving smoothly. Thank you, honey! I will never tire of seeing the crowds of young, happy faces as they dive in with markers, scissors and glue. A beautiful mess! Popular make-and-takes this year included a rooster lantern, paper folding, a hand drum, a lion dance mask, and a papercut fan.

March may come in like a lion, but we are relieved to be over the hardest days of winter in Maine, as the sun gets brighter and the snow pack starts to recede. Now it’s time to look for new ways to introduce Chinese crafts and culture in educational arenas, blog guest interviews, and in ways and places I have yet to discover. I’d love to hear your comments on what kind of shape that can take and what new craft designs are on your wish list!

Year of the Rooster- Holiday Fun

Happy Holidays to all my blog friends. Whether you are a teacher, festival organizer, librarian or just a family member interested in Chinese culture and crafting, thank you for checking in! The last couple of months have been busy with all kinds of activities, Lucky Bamboo Crafts events, work with my higher education job, parenting a high school freshman, and of course the unexpected. Jury duty, cleaning up early winter blasts; I’m in ‘ready for anything’ mode for sure!

I’ve posted a free project template for a ‘Year of the Rooster’ lucky money envelope (hongbao). Simply click back to my homepage and enjoy! I’ll be leading Chinese New Year crafts locally with our Portland, ME organization event, as well as with Boston Chinatown Main Street at their Chinese New Year Cultural Village. Although I will not be visiting Peabody Essex Museum this year because of a schedule conflict, I’m making a large dragon head and parade costume for an interactive activity they will offer to their Lunar New Year visitors for the kids to embellish. Then they will parade the dragon. Great idea, Caryn!

And of course with Christmas and Chanukah this weekend we can all step back and take a break from the routine to celebrate. That’s an order! Along with family fun, I use the time leading up to the new year (and then the lunar new year) to reflect and plan. (Well ok, I’ll also be blinging up a dragon head!). It’s been a wild ride in recent months with domestic politics and world turmoil. Finding that calm, peaceful, purposeful place in our lives is challenging. I’m a bit wrung out. But what choice do we have but to be hopeful, generous and kind, even in small ways. Our kids are counting on us.

Lucky Bamboo Crafts- Lantern Fun

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The Chinese New Year holiday has come and gone (boohoo!), ending with the Lantern Festival on February 22nd. My daughter and I celebrated on a large scale as well as with a dinner at home.

We participated in another successful and festive event at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. They were such wonderful hosts to us, as we oversaw the craft area and lantern-making. I whipped up some ‘Year of the Monkey’ bookmarks from my template (linked from my website) as a giveaway to mark this particular lunar year.

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I also invited a few friends to a dinner at my home for our private celebration. The girls did monkey papercuts (we always like to include this ritual), and we had Kung Pao Chicken on the menu, along with bowls overflowing with oranges and tangerines. What made it extra special was the inclusion of a visiting kindergarten teacher from Chengdu that is a wonderful new friend. She showed me her wok cooking tips and there was some Mandarin in the air (not yet from me, however… but I’m still studying!).

I think my friend from Chengdu was happy to have lively and friendly company on the new year. It must be a hard time to be apart from her family in a place like Maine where so few celebrate the important occasion.

March is around the corner, and the milder air won’t be far behind. I hope to energize my craft activities this spring and summer and will (literally) keep you posted!

Year of the Goat Fun

Lion Dance in Singapore

Back to Singapore! My dear friends hosted me and my daughter (now almost thirteen) to an amazing week of great company, adventures, food and culture. Being over Chinese New Year, we traveled to Asia during the perfect time. New England has NOT been the nicest place to live this winter, and the escape from the bitter cold and unrelenting series of blizzards made the trip all that more sweet. We even got invited with our friends to a home for a special CNY eve hot pot dinner with delicious seafood, meats and veggies, and ‘tang yuan’ with black sesame for dessert. Some highlights:

Soon after our return I led a craft at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. This was my “big event” for the season and they offered a terrific Lunar New Year program with many performances and cultural experiences. I also was thrilled that friends and family attended this one. With this event, I learned (again) that a single strong concept and very simple craft can be fun and engaging for all ages. My daughter was proud that her “Lucky Lantern” was selected to offer to the visitors, out of all the designs in my book. We adapted it slightly (fewer cuts and a tracing paper liner) and gave away a tea light with the lantern.

‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ was offered in the PEM gift shop so I did some book signing as well. Our activity area was very busy all day and it was so satisfying helping to make Chinese culture accessible and enjoyable for everyone since that has been my quest since the beginning:

I also had a fun activity day early in the month volunteering with my daughter in a Portland after-school program (which we do twice a month). It was exciting to teach our young Somali friends about the celebration of the Lunar New Year. We painted scrolls, adding a “Fu” for a final touch, and did papercuts of “double happiness”:

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I hope no matter which calendar you follow, you have gotten as positive a fresh start to the year as I have, and find many ways to enjoy being creative with your family, friends and students.

Teaching about Chinese New Year

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Now that we are back in gear after school break, I have some lesson plan suggestions for Chinese New Year in the classroom as you begin your planning. These ideas are all personally “teacher tested” and they can adapt up or down for grade level.

The actual date of ‘Year of the Goat’ (also known as Ram or Sheep) is February 19th, 2015. I point this out because for most districts, this will fall during February break so you will want to celebrate the week of the 9th, or hold off until the end with the Lantern Festival falling on March 5th.

A good approach to keep students engaged is to include the following five pieces (I will not do four- it is an unlucky number- did you know that?). If you have an easy projection method, any part of your lesson can be supported with images and videos. So here goes :

1) History- Start with a brief historical overview about the meaning and significance of the holiday. This is when some students will interject they know “all about it”… but for Western classrooms most don’t think about Chinese culture or the holiday at all for the rest of the year. They can use a refresher! Include common ancient folklore such as the story of Nian the monster (great for younger kids) as well as the meaning behind the lunar zodiac, dances, parades and respectful time and rituals with family.

2) Food- Any teacher knows if you offer something edible, you get a captive crowd (actually that is true for many situations?). This could be as elaborate as dumpling making, or as simple as giving out almond cookies… but either way, discussing the traditional foods of a Chinese New Year banquet and their symbolism should be part of the plan.

3) Decorations- Adorning the classroom with paper garlands and lanterns, ‘Fu’ art, couplets on the doorways, and bowls of citrus, etc… is an essential part of the festive celebration. Lots of red!

4) Craft time- Select appropriate projects to grade level and time set aside. If you want a group activity, making a giant dragon dance head is a good activity to preface a parade around the school.

5) Giveaway- Hong Bao (lucky money red envelopes) are inexpensive in solid packs and a nice gift (in the spirit of the holiday) for your students. You can enclose a shiny penny, a fake gold Chinese coin, or a small toy or candy. If you have trouble finding them locally, there are numerous mail-order sites. Of course the students will already have a snack and a craft and that may be enough!

For specific ideas, instructions and templates, I encourage you to add Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts to your resource library! You can also check out my Pinterest pages, and my free printable craft off this website. As an educator, you are also probably web-savvy and can do research for your particular class. I think the most important piece is framing how this holiday fits into a multicultural world, and how extremely significant it is to Chinese people, where ever they call home. You will find that sharing the Lunar New Year with your students will tick many curriculum boxes and most of all, will be loads of fun!

Back to School

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If you are an educator, you are probably already rolling up your sleeves with curriculum, staff development and spiffing up your area at your school site; I remember it well from my art teacher days.

If a parent, the school shopping along with scheduling fall recreation and lessons may be keeping your days busy while you weave in a bit more summer fun. My daughter is entering 7th grade so I am somewhat “hands off” at this point, but I still get that jittery stomach when school starts up, as does she, with all that her “tween” life demands.

Here are a few thoughts to carry with you to tie Chinese culture into a new school year, whether you are a parent, teacher, activity leader or homeschool educator:

  • Anyone that hasn’t discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com needs to check it out. What an amazing resource! One of my goals in the upcoming months is to post some more lessons.
  • My friend in Singapore has just launched unitedteach.com, a great website that pairs virtual volunteers with classrooms to bring in special themes. Schools will be able to register soon and also, volunteers are needed if you have a talent or area of knowledge to share.
  • If your school has exchange students or teachers from China, remember what a valuable resource they are for learning about Chinese culture, and they would also always appreciate invitations, even while their host families are taking good care of them.
  • The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes early this year, on September 8th. It’s a great anchor for a celebration or to start a more robust unit on China. You can even extend through to Year of the Goat on February 19th. Now that would be dedication!

Take heart…. we all will make it over the September “hump”, with backpacks filled, schedules hammered out and early mornings conquered. Here in Maine, as in many parts of the country, it is also a most beautiful and mild time of year with gorgeous foliage to enjoy along with a fresh start.

Is There Life after Chinese New Year?

Don’t get me wrong… the last several weeks of festivals, crafts, dumplings and lanterns have offered wonderful opportunities to be with friends, old and new, at Lunar New Year events all around New England. I’ve also had great support and energy around my book and the craft and culture lessons that I brought to many young audiences.

The Spring Festival right through the Lantern Festival is without a doubt the most significant time of year for Chinese families, and was a perfect time for me to focus on projects and events that teach the strong history and traditions that extend into all aspects of Chinese life.

But what is a Chinese craft book author to do when the decorations come down, the phone stops ringing and the noise of drums and fireworks is far off in the distance? Time to redirect and think about arts and culture integration in the classroom, and all the other places where my fascination with Chinese culture can be shared. I’m thinking about mini e-books, learning Mandarin (in earnest), offering workshops… but for now some recent highlights from Year of the Horse fun:

Boston Children's Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Boston Children’s Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Horses, scrolls and origami at Portland Public Library
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine

And lastly, here is my first foray into t.v. and video… it’s a cute little project done by a  very nervous author! (Click link to view)

Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program
Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts- WCSH 207 Appearance

Year of the Horse 马年

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I’m finding myself at a full gallop right now! The Lunar New Year certainly brings out the revelers that have been waiting for the opportunity to display their red and gold, use calligraphy brushes and ink, and enjoy Chinese crafting fun. I’ve heard this month from teachers, parents, librarians and culture organizations; many that are discovering Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts for the first time.

First a bit about ‘Year of the Horse’. It is the seventh zodiac animal in the twelve year lunar cycle. Someone born under this wood sign is said to have traits of strength, focus, attractiveness, patience and loyalty. It is a personal favorite because my nearly twelve-year-old daughter is a “horse”.

Just to chronicle a bit of what I’m up to (you can check the calendar for details):

  • Taped a segment for a local t.v. show (WCSH207) airing on Chinese New Year, 1/31/14
  • Steering the craft tables at our local CAFAM Chinese New Year celebration
  • Making noisemakers at the Boston Children’s Museum CNY event
  • Attending the FCCNE event held during the Boston Children’s Museum day
  • Leading Chinese New Year crafts at Portland Public Library
  • Teaching workshops at the Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT
  • Bringing CNY crafts to a neighborhood center serving new immigrant families where I volunteer with my daughter

Please pardon my lack of crafted word and deep thought this month; I’m buried in lists, creating horse designs, craft supply shopping and coordinating the next few weeks of celebrations and appearances. After the Spring Festival winds down I’ll put away the glitter and paint, pack up the decorations, enjoy my cleaned up house (crossed fingers on that one but it’s an important tradition for the holiday!), and start looking ahead. What will be next for Lucky Bamboo Crafts? I’ve only just begun!