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.

Lucky Bamboo Crafts and Summer Days

We are all squeezing out the last drops of summer and as we move toward the school year, students of all ages will have their staggered (and perhaps staggering) returns to the routines of academic success. Our own lives change too, as we facilitate all the stuff that goes into their launches. I’m in a good spot. My daughter is a sophomore in high school. Old enough to get her act together on her own with minimal effort on my part, but young enough that I avoid a long college road trip with a tearful goodbye. I’m savoring these times.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts activity has been a little sleepy over the summer but I had one wonderful workshop to teach about the history of kite making in China and make a simple diamond kite, a requirement for summer fun. The simple instructions can be found in my book. The always enthused head librarian Deb shared ancient Chinese kite-themed poetry that she had gone and researched!

The kids were a beautiful bunch and loved running outside afterwards with a kite ready to take flight. I even met lovely twin girls visiting from Australia, and since their mum was kind enough to buy a book, there may be Australian Chinese craft activities going on as we speak.

This is when I also start planning for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Keep checking the events calendar for my appearance dates. I’m giving myself a challenge of figuring out a new craft for this special holiday, or at the very least, giving an older prototype a new flourish.

Since schools and organizations are starting up again and we are all knee-deep in planning, I hope multicultural activities and events will be part of your array. Feel free to contact me if you’d like ideas on how to infuse Chinese culture and crafts into your plans. But first, have (another) ice cream, put your face in the sun, and enjoy these last summer days.

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.

How to Make a Lantern

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Would you like to learn how to make the easiest lantern ever with your kids? As the author of ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts; Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture’, I have shared hundreds of Chinese-inspired projects and craft designs for every occasion and setting. But recently I was preparing the craft station for our local Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and I wanted to bring something new. And easy. And festive. And versatile.  This Jade Rabbit lantern worked out beautifully for all ages.

Tools and Materials:

  • paper party cup
  • chenille stem
  • paper graphic art
  • LED tea light
  • scissors
  • markers, etc. for coloring
  • glue stick
  • hole punch

Instructions:

  1. Punch two holes near cup rim opposite each other, with one on the cup seam
  2. “Squash” cup so holes are in the middle and cut some openings on each side in any shape
  3. Re-shape cup and attach chenille stem through holes for handle
  4. Color in (if needed) and cut out graphic
  5. Glue graphic to inside rim of cup, positioned between the handle holes
  6. Place tea light in cup

Another great thing about this lantern; it can be adapted to any holiday or theme. Halloween, Lunar New Year, Christmas pageant, Lantern Festival…. even a kids’ sleepover activity. Just find the perfect image or graphic online (or draw one) that would look nice on the edge of the cup, and copy to the right size and number of duplicates.

So there’s my little inspiration. Maine is aglow not only with lanterns but with foliage, and we’re making spicy-sweet apple and pumpkin creations. I hope you are also enjoying this special time of year. Leave a comment and let me know how your lanterns turn out!

Summer Sun and Chinese Dragon Fun

Jennifer DeCristoforo
Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, Hartford

Lucky Bamboo Crafts have been part of the fun over these summer weeks. Life is a little slower, the weather is divine, and what better time to enjoy sharing crafts and Chinese culture with kids.

In July I headed to the Bangor Chinese School with my daughter to lead a workshop during their Chinese Dragon Camp. We made kites and chops in one short session which was pretty ambitious, but the kids ranged up to high schoolers and were great listeners and workers. They enjoyed coming away with authentic projects to bring home and share with their families. We loved walking the hallways beforehand and hearing intensive Mandarin classes going on in room after room. Dancers practiced in every corner. The camp was so alive with culture.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

This month I was in Hartford, CT again for the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the river. This year was extra special as my good friend Alison came up from Greenwich, CT and joined me. The kids made dragon boats, chopstick cases and other simple crafts. This is always a spectacular event of races, performances, activities and food.

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Now that I’ve shared craft projects with all ages, sizes of group and types of event, I am much calmer, more confident and let each event simply unfold. But just a small “pearl”… the constant in being successful has not changed since I first rolled out Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This would seem obvious, but I’m quite methodical about starting my supply list early, bringing ample quantities of the craft for a big crowd, and always throwing a little something extra in.. coloring sheets and crayons, origami paper, etc.. so there are choices for all ages. A craft session can really crash and burn if there is a whoops like glue sticks forgotten or insufficient pre-prep of a craft that makes the project too time-consuming and frustrating for the kids.

The summer has been glorious on every front for me and the upcoming autumn days will be bittersweet, as my daughter enters high school. At 14 she is a wonderful partner and helper with craft events and in life, but it’s hard not to be aware of the fleeting time that has passed since I first started developing this book. She’s a young woman and I say that with pride and astonishment. As you start corralling school supplies and reviewing team schedules with your kids, I wish you a good transition and will be back soon with education-focused ideas.

Chinese Crafts for Summer Camps

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Hello, Summer! We are enjoying the change of pace in Maine as the state swells with visitors looking for beaches, ice cream, lighthouses and relaxation. Many of your kids are also headed to summer camps in places like Maine, and camps are a great place to introduce Chinese crafts. (I think you knew where I was going with this!)

Day camps usually need quick make-and-takes while overnight camps often have a well-stocked art area where more involved projects can be done (many steps, or involving dry time in between). I’m excited to be leading a craft session this week at a local Chinese Dragon Camp through the Bangor Chinese School. It is a short timeframe since it’s a day camp with a rigorous Mandarin learning schedule, and we are making kites and chops which are both in Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I have modified both projects to simplify the steps and cut the time considerably. The campers are grades 4-12 so I can have high expectations of their ability to follow the steps at a good clip.

Some of my other favorite Asian culture camp crafts are fans, floating dragon boats, shadow puppets (and stage), paper making and knot tying, depending on the age level. If you don’t have multicultural or heritage camps in your area, consider how culture-specific projects can be worked in with your usual ‘greatest hits’ for camps crafts.

One other mention this summer; two wonderful bloggers that are passionate about multicultural parenting have recently posted reviews of my book. Please check them out and share their lovely work at: www.hybridparenting.org and Oaxacaborn.com.

The camp atmosphere is wonderful for teaching kids about being world citizens. Music, cooking, dance and storytelling are just some of the other activities that can be rolled into an international theme. The best part is you have the great outdoors to be your art studio and you can gather materials from nature. Happy Camp Crafting!

Learning Chinese

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Hello, friends! Before you assume this is yet another “think out loud” pledge to myself to learn Chinese (yawn), I promise you I am posting some useful information. There are so many good ways to take on the study of a new language, and you’ve read about my foray into learning Mandarin. I continue to be committed to daily lessons….. on YouTube. I’m so impressed with the huge variety of great teachers and language lists that can be accessed so easily. I have not drilled down much with getting subscriptions because I simply can’t decide on one site I want to follow sequentially. So I’m basically “skipping rocks” on the surface for now, just pulling up all sorts of videos. As I advance, this may get frustrating and if so, I’ll get more structured with one or two complete courses in earnest.

Some considerations for my lesson choices are attention level, daily mood, level of difficulty, cultural context, repetition technique, situational conversations, association with visual Pinyin, and time I have to spare at each sitting. Here are  just a few of my current favorites with a link to a sample of a video lesson from each:

Yuting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX3xCsoTbDs is a charming and funny instructor with an animated personality and cute video production techniques. Her “Top 25” style videos are great for picking up essentials.

Ben from Learn Chinese Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raG_Ysu3b4A usually pairs with a female instructor, and their discussions that support the language learning are always helpful to fully explain the concepts. He has a pleasant, straightforward style.

Fiona from Mandarin Made Easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bze1eKu5Aac is a lively and upbeat instructor who uses a variety of formats from solo and paired lessons (I especially like Gwilym) to “day in the life” visits and experiences around the world including her Taiwanese culture.

Mike from Learn Chinese with Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy8SHpbQ004 took some getting used to, with his “cool dude” laid-back style. But his lessons are done well with thoughtfully organized content, and as he writes on his whiteboard, you feel you are right in his garage(!) with him.

Yangyang with Yoyo Chinese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxeLo3hVe0w is one of the most polished and comprehensive teachers. She barrels through an impressive series of lessons, but her presentation style doesn’t vary much, so I watch her channel when I’m just in the mood for nuts and bolts.

I’ve also been streaming podcasts when driving for long stretches. Although I haven’t explored much in this arena, one I like a lot is Dimsum Mandarin http://www.languagedomus.com/courses/view/2/dimsum-mandarin. Chung has a well-paced and articulate style and you can download free podcasts or subscribe.

Hopefully this will give you a head start on trying some new resources. I don’t think it’s one size fits all so you will find your own favorites as you explore the many great channels. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep at it with the hope that you can teach an old dog (or middle-aged mom?) new tricks. Kuàilè de chūntiān!

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!