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Incorporating Culture into Your Family: Chinese New Year

Have you ever wondered how you can incorporate your child’s heritage and culture into your family? Leah Rockey, Assistant Director, shares with us today how she incorporates Chinese New Year into their family as a means to celebrate their child’s heritage and culture. We hope you will take a moment to read some ideas of how you can honor your child’s birth country and their heritage, regardless of what country your family may adopt from. 

Today is Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival), one of the largest holidays celebrated in China and by far the most important holiday and festival for the Chinese people. Chinese New Year 2018 is considered the Year of the Dog.

Did you know that this holiday is actually celebrated by a quarter of the world and the dates for Chinese New Year change each year as they are determined by the lunar calendar?  While there are many ways throughout the year that you can actively teach your child about their heritage and culture, holidays can be a great time to merge your child’s cultural roots into your family by creating some of your own family traditions.

In the Rockey house, Chinese New Year is an exciting time for our family not only because there are a lot of fun activities, but it was also when our family traveled to China to bring our daughter home. Our daughter gets very excited and will ask at various times throughout the year, “When is it going to be Chinese New Year, momma?”  For our family, we have always wanted to follow our daughter’s cues and interests when it comes to her birth country. If she is excited about learning more about China and wants to engage in her culture, we want to embrace that and help educate her. We never want to force this on her and for the last several years, we’ve chosen to celebrate Chinese New Year alongside of other families who have adopted from China or being around other families who are Chinese; thus, allowing our daughter to feel a sense of family and community. Since our daughter loves to decorate “for parties”, we also decorate our home during Chinese New Year with items we have purchased during our trips to China.

 

Since both mother and daughter enjoy doing crafts in our home, we chose to make our own paper lanterns to hang during the new year. Decorating for Chinese New Year has been a fun time for our family that has opened up many conversations about China, her adoption story, and her culture.  While we often think of Chinese New Year as similar to our Christmas or New Year’s, there are much deeper cultural dynamics, traditions, and expectations that are a part of this special holiday, which make it little different from some of our “family holidays” celebrated in the U.S.  To have a better understanding of Chinese New year, I encourage you to read through this article which highlights many of the following Chinese traditions surrounding Chinese New Year: gifts that are customarily given, types of foods that are a part of the celebration, an outline of what people do each of the 16 days of the festivities, why red envelopes are given, why long noodles and dumplings are eaten, the meaning behind fireworks, why the color red is used, and more. It will give you an insider’s view into this special holiday and how it is celebrated around the world.

As believers, we recognize that many of the traditions of this particular Chinese holiday are steeped in superstitions, myths, or other belief systems. For our family, we have still found ways to enjoy the holiday and we choose to incorporate some special words into our celebration (that we use in our decorations) that represent some of our values as a family.

One of the things that our family enjoys doing when Chinese New Year is on the horizon, is finding local events or activities to participate in. We especially love to use this holiday as time for all of our family to learn more about China. In the U.S., there are often many festivals and special events held across a number of cities during the weeks leading up to and following the day of Chinese New Year. Take some time to research and see what activities are being held near you during different holidays.

I often hear families ask, “What if I don’t live near a city that has a cultural event?” There are still many simple and creative ways to start new and fun family traditions that incorporate your child’s culture. In our family, we don’t try to mimic “perfectly” everything that Chinese families do during this holiday, but we have looked at how it is celebrated and have chosen a few ideas we like and then made them our own.

Since food and tea are a big part of a Chinese New Year celebration, we have incorporated different Chinese dishes each year. If your family enjoys cooking, why not try making homemade dumplings or a new noodle dish? If you don’t enjoy cooking, take out is ok, too! This is a great time to find a new recipe, experiment with a new dish or find a local restaurant you may like.  If you have local Asian markets or stores, set aside time to visit these with your child/ren- explore, find a new snack your child may like or just try something new as a family.

Pinterest, websites, and blogs have wonderful ideas for children’s crafts, creative learning ideas that center around a specific theme, or recipes for children’ snacks or “food crafts”. We have found that some of these little ideas can make for new and exciting family traditions. Since our daughter loves to make crafts as well as create with food, we have incorporated food crafts during our Chinese New Year.

Each year as Chinese New Year approaches, we read together as a family.

We visit local festivals to watch the cultural Lion Dance or other traditional Chinese dances.

In addition this year, we took a Chinese class together to learn how to write Chinese characters and learn a few words and phrases in Chinese.

We have explored musical instruments native to China and have given red envelopes.

While this may be a small snapshot of how our family has chosen to celebrate our daughter’s heritage over the last several years, however you choose to celebrate cultural holidays or integrate your child’s culture into your family, always make sure it “looks and feels” like your family and is something that represents who you are and is something you’ll enjoy doing. In doing so, it will become something that your family will look forward to celebrating year after year.

From our family to yours, 新年好!(xīn nián hǎo) –Have a good New Year!

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