Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chinese New Year - Money Envelopes

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Adults give children red lucky money envelopes, known as Lai-See or Hong Boaon New Year's day. Children traditionally kneel in front of their parents to receive the lai-see, while wishing them health and prosperity. When children become adults, it is their turn to give these envelopes to their parents.

The red (representing luck) envelopes traditionally decorated with gold symbols of wealth and happiness, have paper money inside, though no coins because they are thought to bring bad luck. The amount should be an even number, except for a denomination with the number 4 (40, etc) as this number sounds like the word for death in Cantonese.  The money should also be crisp and new.

We found these Lai-See envelopes at a local Asian grocery.

There are various lucky money envelopes that can be printed at Activity Village or you can make your own with red construction paper, or shiny red wrapping paper, using the template found here.
And, seen below, a printable envelope with card from Chica Circle, a printable template with the Good Luck symbol at Martha Stewart Living, and a printable year of the snake envelope from Thousand Skies.

Printable at Thousand Skies

Printable at Chica Circle
Printable at Martha Stewart Living

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chinese New Year - Lion Dance

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

The Chinese Lion Dance is performed throughout the festivities in parades, competitions, and along the streets near shops as the lion dance is thought to bring good luck and fortune to businesses. When approaching stores, the lion performs the traditional Cai Ching, reaching a high hung red money envelope with acrobatics and dance like lion movements.

Photo Credit: NikiSublime

Do not mistake the lion dance for the dragon dance - the lion dance is performed by two people, who are not seen as they are inside the costume (as opposed to holding it up with poles, such as with the dragon dance).

Photo Credit: Wilth
The below video by Matt Love shows the dragon and lion dances:

If you're inspired to make a lion craft, Laura Horning at Give Your Octopus a Paintbrush shares a tutorial with printable to make this lion puppet:

And Canon has printable project, that once assembled resembles this incredible paper lion:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Craft - Dragon Puppet

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Pea and Elle worked on their dragon puppets this week, in honor of the Dragon Dance. Elle is still working on hers, but Pea's just waiting for the dowels to dry and it will be complete.

We used this tutorial at Spoonful, and customized it with extra details. We cut out more of the "hair" templates to give the dragon's face more pomp. Adding colorful pompoms and yarn "beard" mimics fur and gives more texture. Pea also wanted a tongue with magical pearl, so we cut a strip of red cardstock, stapled one end to the back of the top mouthpiece (top egg carton) and glued (using glue gun) the other end to the front of the bottom mouthpiece, giving the tongue a wave. She then glued a glass pebble as the pearl.

For the fabric body, we cut a piece from our scrap fabric pile, and she decorated it with metallic, paint and permanent markers. We then stapled it inside out along the long edge.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chinese New Year - Dragon Dance & Round Up of Dragon Crafts

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Photo Credit: Jim Nix
The pearl in a dragon's mouth gives it power to fly to the heavens, as Chinese dragons have no wings

Dragons are believed to bring good luck, and are seen as in control of the seasons and the weather. For the Spring Festival, dragons need to be awakened with much noise and clamor to bring forth the rain for the beginning of spring.

Photo Credit: Melissa Evans

The dragon dance is performed for the Lunar New Year as part of the celebrations to attract good luck into the coming year. Its long body is held up with bamboo poles by many young men, and is generally 100 feet long, though some can be as long as 225 feet. The longer the dragon is, the more luck it will bring. The dances take months, and sometimes years to learn.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chinese New Year - Chunlian (Part 2)

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Hung around the doorway, in through which the new year will come.
Last night, the girls worked on their Spring Couplets, the red banners to be hung around our doorway. These couplets herald the coming of spring, therefore the first step was finding chinese characters that represent symbols of spring. We looked through the book "My Little Book of Chinese Words", a small, colorful book filled with Chinese characters, and found many words, such as sun, spring, bird, shine. The girls wrote a list of all possible words, then worked on writing a poetic sentence that included five of the Chinese characters (the space on our banners allows for four to five characters). Elle took her time, editing and re-editing until she was quite happy with her sentence. Pea enjoyed it so much she wrote six!

Each banner is made from one sheet of tissue paper, folder in thirds and glued together in the back, which gave it more substance than a one layer cut rectangle.

Pea's chunlian to the left translates to:
The morning sun shine's, which follow's Spring.
Elle's chunlian to the right translates to:
The last shine of the sun for the year of the dragon, the last beam of the moon before Spring.
The top chunlian translates to:
Receive the Spring's whisper of flowers into your heart.
(Chinese characters are the words bolded in red)

I created a sheet of various Chinese characters that can be used to make your own spring couplet:

You can find smaller, printable Chunlian here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chinese New Year - Chunlian (Part 1)

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

After the house has been cleaned, Chinese families hang up new Chun Lian: red banners with written couplets about the return of spring, and diamond shaped paper with good luck symbols. These are hung up in and around doorways, because that is where the new year will enter the house. Red is considered very lucky, and gold symbolizes wealth. 

Photo Credit: Chrislb

Here you'll find a photo album of couplets being made and used in China in preparation for the Lunar New Year.

We bought chinese bamboo calligraphy brushes at a local art supply store- I was going to start with two medium brushes and some ink, but there was a kit available that included a small and medium brush, ink, watercolors, rice paper, and a soft pad to use underneath the paper. The kit was a better overall deal, and I would have never known to use that soft padding, which was quite nice. I wasn't able to find quality red paper at the art supply store, so I ended up getting red tissue paper at a dollar store, and it worked quite nicely. I did iron the tissue paper beforehand, which does seem a like a little much, but those folded creases were detracting from the girls' calligraphy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chinese New Year - Preparations

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Photo Credit: Penguincakes

Preparing for the Spring Festival starts weeks ahead of the New Year. The Chinese spend days cleaning every corner of the house, so that no bad luck from the old year will follow into the new year. Dusting, scrubbing, discarding unused or broken things and furnishings. Sweeping out the old year's bad luck.

We started by reorganizing the girls bedrooms. Elle and I hunkered down for a day, rearranging, discarding, and reorganizing (new shelves made a big difference). All she has left to do is clean behind her dressers, and under her bed (dreadful). Pea refuses any help with her bedroom, oh the privacy of teens, and it is taking her longer to get reorganized. She has been filling the goodwill bag, so that is promising. I, on the other hand, am much less motivated then I pretend to be. We are due for a spring cleaning, but the freezing weather outdoors does nothing for incentive. I would rather be curled up in a blanket, not cringing at the amount of dust that has accumulated over our light fixtures. Well, in honor of the New Year, dusting will be done!

It is also time to decorate for the festivities. Bowls of oranges and tangerines are set out. Oranges represent money and wealth and tangerines represent good luck. Fresh flowers, flowering branches and kumquat trees are placed throughout the house or at an altar.

The Chinese prepare themselves by getting a hair cut and buying a new outfit, as a way of being unrecognizable to the old year's bad spirits, and as a fresh way to start the new year. Old debts are payed off and strained relationships mended.

The timing is perfect, our whole family is due for a hair trim.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Craft - Chinese Noisemakers

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Pea and I made a couple of noisemakers to use for the new year celebration.
Along with scissors and glue, these are the materials you'll need:

Trace the ribbon spool on colorful cardstock, and cut out the circles.
Paint the sides and edges of the ribbon spool (top right), and paint the dowel.
To attach the dowel, slice an X at the bottom, and push dowel through. Once you can see the end in the center hole of the ribbon spool, dab some white glue to the tip, then continue and push the dowel until it reaches the top of the spool. Hold for a minute while it dries. While it continues drying, draw designs on cardstock.
Once fully dry, cut a small hole on either side for cording. For each side, thread the end of your cording through the cut, and tie around dowel in center.
Attache bead to cording, measuring it so the bead hits the section where there is a hole - creates better "percussion".

These were glued one at a time to the ribbon spool, using tacky white glue, and weighed down by book while the glue dried.

We chose red and gold for our noisemakers since they are the new year colors, symbolizing luck and prosperity. Our Chinese characters are for good luck, spring, and good fortune. And of course a snake for the coming Year of the Snake.
The gold metallic marker worked wonderfully, and looks great against the red.

Once complete, twirl the dowel to make the beads swing back and forth, and make some noise!

You can find more cultural activities at the Culture Swapper linkup:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Spring Festival - Chinese New Year

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

The Chinese New Year was traditionally celebrated for fifteen days, ending with the lantern festival. Today, festivities generally take place from three days to a week.

The New Year begins on a different date each year as it begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice. This is based on the lunar calendar, therefore it is known as the Lunar New Year. This marks the beginning of spring, which is why it is also known as the Spring Festival. This year, the New Year begins on February 10th.

It is the time of year to gather with your family, and welcome the New Year. In China, children have a break from school, and adults have a holiday. Everyone travels to their hometowns to get together with their families for the festival.

Photo Credit: Irum Shahid

Monday, January 14, 2013

Books - Chinese New Year

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

After reading nearly a dozen non fiction books about the Chinese New Year, all borrowed as usual from our public library, the following four are my favorites:

This book gives readable and engaging descriptions of the practices surrounding the festival with lovely illustrations, making it a fun, educational book to read with kids.

This book, through National Geographic, is worth looking through with kids for the bright, colorful photographs of various aspects of the festival.

The following two books are great resources to have on hand for various Chinese festivals:

With colorful paintings, this informative book describes various festivals, and includes associated legends.

Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes  by Nina Simonds and Leslie Swartz
Another great book about explaining various festivals, with legends, activities, and recipes.

Boy Mama Teacher Mama has a great round up of fiction and picture books about the Chinese New Year. You can check out her great post here. 

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Our first trip of many to a Chinese Grocery store

A great way to start learning about a culture is to learn about their food. I have six different recipe books from the library, and as I peruse through them, I see many ingredients I don't recognize. We have two asian groceries in our area, and as a Saturday morning outing, we headed out to both. We bought some dumplings, candies, glutinous rice flour for the Nian Gao we'll be making in a few weeks, lai see, and wonton wrappers (wonton recipe coming soon). Mostly, we had fun looking at the various products and ingredients.

Dried Fungus

Various types of noodles

Dried Bamboo Leaves

Pea & Elle, checking out the dishes and wares

Hubby in his favorite section of any store - the condiment aisle

Dried Anchovies

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Flag of China

"Five Star Red Flag"

Flag of the People's Republic of China was created in 1949. The red represents the communist revolution. The five stars represent the unity of the Chinese people (4 little stars) under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (larger star).

You can find a printable full color Chinese flag at Printer Projects, either as a full page flag, or a smaller two sided flag. You can find printable Chinese flag coloring page at Coloring Castle and a flag and map at Crayola

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The People's Republic of China

 CHINA has one of the world's oldest civilizations, and yet has changed faster than any other country in the world in the last 20 years. The Chinese culture is 40 centuries old.

Photo Credit: Flickr member obscurepixels
Photo Credit: Ky Dally
Photo Credit: Flickr member Medically Irrelevant

Photo Credit: Flickr member pdvos
It is the world's 4th largest country, and the most populated with more than 1.3 billion people. 94% of its population lives in the eastern third of the country.

Source: Top China Travel

Source: National Geographic
Its geography ranges from deserts to river deltas to mountains, and its climate ranges from subtropic to subarctic.

Photo Credit: Mike
Photo Credit: Will De Freitas

Photo Credit: Benjamin Vander Steen
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