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.

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!

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!

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!

Crafts for Chinese New Year

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Year of the Horse crafts for Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) on January 31, 2014 celebrates the Year of the Horse. It’s time to start planning your craft activities for school, home, cultural organizations, grandparent time, scouts and of course for your local Chinese New Year festival, banquet or parade.

Here’s a little round up to get you started with some tips from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I annually plan 6-12 kid’s crafts for our large Chinese New Year event in Portland, Maine. I’m in a nice flow of retaining some popular crafts each year, while offering some projects specific to the zodiac animal. You can start a list or spreadsheet considering these guidelines:

Quantity– You’ll need to plan for copies and materials. Duplicate designs or templates for copies on one page where possible. Estimate the number of crafters expected between 3-15 years old. Then add a few extra as some may want takeaways for a sibling at home or a teacher.

Variety– If you are preparing several crafts, include common projects such as lucky red envelopes (hong bao), and a Fu banner. Then add crafts with varied materials, themes and shapes; for example, a puppet, a fan, a mask and some origami.

Supplies– Red, red, red! Get out now over holiday break and pick up red tissue paper, card stock, ribbon, fabric and partyware. Gold is also available in the New Year’s Eve section. Grab red and gold materials while still easily available at dollar and box stores and right after Christmas they are often on sale, as well. Tools (scissors, hole punches, etc..) can often be borrowed if you make the effort. Check your markers, glue sticks and crayons… if dried out or broken, refresh them.

Preparation– Allow time to prepare masters for copies and purchase materials and supplies. Good template shapes are the key to successful crafts. Obviously I’m fond of my designs from the book, but simple project templates and graphic elements (images, Chinese characters, etc..) are abundant on the web. Play around with copies and “old fashioned” cut and paste to get them right. It’s often faster and easier than trying to make a computer graphic.

Crafts are just one piece of a successful event. You’ll want to consider food, decorations and any performance offerings (such as a dragon parade or lion dance). But crafts are often a favorite of the kids. They add collaborative fun and relaxation while teaching about Chinese culture, and result in cool stuff to bring home. Gong Xi Fa Cai!