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Year of the Rabbit - Lunar New Year

Ideas for Incorporating Your Child’s Culture into Your Family: Chinese New Year

By Leah Rockey

Chinese culture and writingDoes integrating a new culture into your family ever feel overwhelming? Perhaps during your home study or even after you arrived home with your child, you thought, “How can I practically integrate my child’s culture into our family?” I have received this question many times over the years, and I often share with families that one of the first and most natural places to start is with holidays.

For our family, Chinese New Year has always marked an exciting time of the year, not only because our children love learning about China, but also because our first adoption was finalized just days before the Lunar New Year. This timing allowed us to experience and learn firsthand how this holiday is celebrated in China. 

Regardless of which country you choose to adopt from, I encourage you to search for articles or books that will educate you on important holidays celebrated in your child’s birth country. If you are currently or have previously adopted from China, you can also read my recent post, “Lunar New Year Celebrations,” for a very brief overview of Lunar New Year. 

While our family may not celebrate Chinese New Year exactly like someone from China, we have chosen to take certain elements that work for us and fit both our children’s ages and interests. We may incorporate some of the same ideas from the previous year or add new ones. Whatever holiday you choose to celebrate with your child should fit who you are as a family. You never want the holiday to feel forced. 

Chinese Fortune CookiesFor our family, we have always followed our daughters’ cues and interests when learning about their birth country. Our children love telling people they were born in China and can tell you a lot about their birth country because we have chosen to make it a normal part of our day-to-day conversations. They get so excited when they know Christmas is over and Chinese New Year is on the horizon because they know we will do some cultural activities and have fun over the two weeks of the Lunar New Year celebration. 

One of the most important things you can do as a family when adopting from any country is to become a student of your child’s birth country. Over the years, we have been intentional to learn all that we can about China, Chinese traditions, and holidays. We also look for opportunities to expose our children to the beauty of China’s rich culture and other individuals who share their heritage. Children who have been adopted need to see others who look like them and continue to learn from them, which opens doors for continued conversations about their adoption and culture.  

I’m going to highlight Chinese New Year since that is the current holiday celebrated over the next two weeks, but I encourage you to use this information to give you ideas for incorporating any holiday or culture into your family traditions.

Integrating Cultural Items into Your Home

Cultural itemsOur family loves decorating for holidays; Chinese New Year is no exception. Our children squeal with excitement when the Chinese lanterns come out, the table is set in brilliant red and gold, and bright red plum blossoms overflow their wooden vase. 

When you travel for your adoption trip, think ahead and purchase items for different holidays throughout the year. A wise person advised me about our trips to China, “If you see something you think you’ll want later and you think you’ll have regrets that you didn’t purchase it, you probably should buy it.” From experience, we are thankful for certain cultural purchases we made for our children.

As part of your adoption expenses, it’s worth budgeting and saving extra money to buy cultural items. You may choose items to give to your child on different occasions in their life, as well as special items for your home décor or for celebrating holidays. On each of our trips to China, we purchased items we use in different ways throughout the year, especially during Chinese New Year. These include Chinese calligraphy/paint brushes, Chinese name scrolls and artwork, a table runner, Chinese knots, special chopsticks, Chinese dolls, our daughters’ personalized name chops, and hand-painted tea sets. 

Traditional Clothing

Traditional clothingWhile this is not a tradition that all of China strictly adheres to anymore, Chinese New Year has become a time that our children love to wear traditional Chinese clothing purchased while on their adoption trips. They will often ask to wear their Chinese dresses (qipao/cheongsam/hanfu) while creating art projects, making food crafts, or attending certain Chinese cultural events. Therefore, consider purchasing traditional clothing (in various sizes) when you travel to meet your child. This clothing can be exciting for them at special times of the year. Some parents have also purchased traditional attire for themselves — a salwar kameez (Punjabi) or a sari from India, a Tang suit or jade bracelet from China, or other items native to their child’s birth country.

Attending Cultural Events

Lion DanceAs a family, we always try to find a Chinese New Year festival to attend or another Chinese cultural event that takes place at some part of the year. For us, this practice has included attending festivals with Chinese acrobats/performers, watching kung fu demonstrations, experiencing the beauty of traditional Chinese dances, learning about Chinese calligraphy, exploring Asian instruments, taking a Chinese cooking class, and attending a lion or dragon dance performance.

Even during the pandemic, when these festivals were no longer in person, our children created their own Lion Dance performance by making lion masks and paraded around the house dancing to Chinese music. Take the time to research what is local or within a few hours of driving, and make the time to experience these wonderful events. Your family will learn a lot together while making memories, too! 


Chinese FoodChinese food is one of the most prominent elements of the Lunar New Year celebrations, so each year, we prepare a variety of Chinese dishes as part of our Lunar New Year’s eve dinner. While we don’t choose our menu based on Chinese superstition and tradition like many Chinese families do, we pick several traditional dishes that our children love to eat. Each year, we also try to incorporate a new menu item to introduce our children to. 

If your family enjoys cooking, why not make homemade dumplings or a noodle dish? If you don’t enjoy cooking, visit a restaurant or purchase takeout. Chinese New Year is a great time to try a new recipe, expose your child to a new dish or find a local restaurant you may like and could visit throughout the year. You may want to explore an Asian or Spanish market with your child/ren and find new snacks or treats, authentic ingredients to use in your meals, or special stocking stuffers for Christmas. These trips can be fun, cultural, and educational experiences for you and your child. 

Creative Elements 

Cookies with sprinklesIf your children are younger, toys are a great way to integrate fun and culture simultaneously. We have purchased Lego sets specifically designed for Chinese New Year that teach our daughters about the Lunar New Year and its traditions. Perhaps your child loves to draw, enjoys making crafts, or helping in the kitchen. Chinese New Year, or any cultural holiday, is a great time to focus on those interests and teach culture. For our family, our girls love to cook, bake, and make crafts, so each year, we pull from these interests. 

Over the years, this has taken a lot of different forms for our family, as we have made lion dance masks and created our own lion dance, designed the Chinese flag as a food craft, learned a new Chinese character to write, painted the Chinese animal for that year, or made homemade Chinese dumplings. While fortune cookies are in no way Chinese, and you won’t find them in China, our daughters still love them and their hidden messages, so we have adapted a food craft they enjoy each year using chocolate melts and different sprinkles. Since this is the year of the rabbit, you could purchase a rabbit cookie cutter and make Jello shapes or rabbit-shaped cookies or create a craft that involves a rabbit or Chinese lanterns. Endless ideas are on blogs and sites like Pinterest, so incorporate what you and your child love to do and use holidays to educate them while having fun doing it!

Red Envelopes ( hóng bāo & lai see)

Red envelopesIf you understand Chinese culture, you know that red envelopes are always an exciting part of the Chinese New Year celebration. This fun tradition is a great way to teach your child’s grandparents about their culture, too! Having grandparents give a red envelope to your child allows them to be a part of this important cultural tradition. As a family, you can choose how you want to incorporate this cultural tradition, and you certainly don’t need to feel pressured to give an exact amount of money based strictly on Chinese tradition. Some years, we’ve even added golden chocolate coins to the envelope, too, which was undoubtedly a highlight for our little ones. 

Chinese Name Chops (yìn jiàn)

Name ChopsName chops are a part of Chinese culture and are typically made of stone with intricate designs and a traditional square seal of a Chinese name. A chop is commonly used in China with zhūshā (a red paste/ink) to sign/seal documents, artwork, or Chinese calligraphy. While in China, we had a chop made for each of our daughters, reflecting both their Chinese and English names. Each year during Chinese New Year, our girls love to pull out their name chops and this special red paste to make art or sign their artwork. While this is not a typical new year tradition in China, it is one that our children have made their own each year and is another example of how a cultural item can be used or brought into a holiday. 

Books & Movies

Cultural booksWhile reading books are not a Chinese tradition for Lunar New Year, we use Chinese New Year to purchase a new book for each of our children to add to their adoption/cultural collection. We also try to find a show or movie that highlights Chinese New Year celebrations or culture and watch that together as a family. These books and movies range in topics from Chinese culture or animals native to China, to stories with Chinese characters or specific ways Chinese New Year or other holidays are celebrated in China. Our children love reading books and watching shows about their birth country, so these have been great ways to teach them about China while also opening a gateway to fun and unique discussions.

As believers, we know that a lot of Chinese culture and holidays are steeped in superstitions, myths, and belief systems that do not align with Christianity. Still, we have been able to use certain cultural books or shows designed for their ages to educate and explain to our children what other parts of the world believe. We continue to show them what the Bible teaches and point them to the truth of God’s Word.

Not “One Size Fits All”

While this is a small snapshot of how our family has chosen to weave our daughters’ culture into our Chinese New Year celebrations, celebrating and exploring your child’s culture is not a “one size fits all” process. I’d encourage you to research some holidays celebrated in your child’s birth country and think through ways you might take some of those elements and modify them to fit your family and current life stage. This practice will look different from year to year. 

However, I hope these ideas have given you some room to explore, think out of the box, and discover new ways to celebrate cultural holidays together as a family. What is most important is that what you choose to do represents you as a family and is something you’ll look forward to enjoying together year after year. 

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