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Chinese New Year, or Yuan Tan

Chinese New Year; new beginnings; looking forward to the future.

by Caroline Donne

Suitable for Key Stage 2


Chinese New Year; new beginnings; looking forward to the future.

Preparation and materials

  • Background: Chinese New Year is a spring festival and has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. Originally it was a festival in which farmers hoped for a good harvest in the year to come. It is linked to the lunar calendar and the first day of the New Year always has a new moon.
  • Before the festival there is a period of preparation when houses are cleaned, lucky red decorations are hung over doors and around rooms, and new clothes are bought. Debts and business accounts are settled before New Year's Day. Ancestor worship is very important in Chinese culture and the period before New Year is especially a time to remember ancestors.
  • The festival can last up to 15 days, but is usually celebrated over three days. Shops and businesses are usually shut and people gather in family groups and visit friends. It's a time of religious reflection and great fun with the giving of gifts, flowers, sweets and lucky money, as well as feasting, dragon dances and fireworks.
  • Materials: A picture of a Ram; a traditional Chinese red envelope for lucky money; a picture of a dragon dance or a dragon mask. Show these at appropriate times in the assembly.


  1. Remind the children of the new year celebrations they may have had this year. What did they do? Using the background material, explain that for many Chinese people today is the first day of their new year. They've been looking forward to it over the last few weeks and getting their houses ready for the celebrations. These preparations include putting up big red decorations (red is thought to be a lucky colour), hanging two-line messages with new year good wishes around the doors, cleaning the house and buying new clothes. It's also a time when Chinese people visit their temples and they especially remember their ancestors, people who were part of the family but who have now died. Explain that for many Chinese people respect for parents and for elderly people is very important.

  2. Explain that today, the first day of the new year, everyone wishes everyone else 'Happy New Year' - much as we do on 1 January. It's a time to be thankful for the last year, to look forward to what may happen this year and to hope that it will be a good one. Children are given special little red envelopes (remember that red is a lucky colour) with 'lucky money' inside. Families will meet together to eat special food and wear new clothes. In some places dumplings are a favourite new year food and they have different fillings, each of which have a different meaning: for example, dumplings filled with sugar will bring a sweet life. Sometimes there's money inside the dumplings.

  3. Explain that there are also things that you can't do on Chinese New Year's Day. Knives and scissors are not used because they are thought to be unlucky. So if you need a hair-cut, you must have it done before the New Year festival! During this time everyone tries to be kind and friendly to everyone else.

  4. Point out that animals are very important too. In China, every year has the name of an animal. There are 12 important animals, so each animal has its turn once every 12 years. This year (2003) it's the year of the Ram. Rams are thought to be kind and to take care of their families, but sometimes they can't make up their minds. Many people think that the sort of person you are, your personality, depends on the year you were born. The last year of the Ram was 1991. Discover who was born in that year or who has a sister or brother born then.

  5. Explain that the celebrations will go on after today. Chinese New Year can be a noisy time too, because people light firecrackers. A long time ago this was thought to chase away ghosts and monsters.

    There's lots of dancing too. People get together in teams for these dances. One of the most well-known is the dragon dance, where one person wears a dragon mask, and the people following on behind, under a long piece of cloth, are the dragon's tail. There can be twenty or thirty people inside the tail. Dragons were thought to be friendly and helpful and that's why people dress up as dragons today.

Focus on the themes

Recap on the things that are important in Chinese New Year: spending time with family and friends, being kind to one another, hoping for enough food to eat and enough money to live on, remembering people who have died. Ask the children what they think might make a good new year.

Time for reflection

Prepare the children for a time of quiet. Invite them to sit comfortably and to close their eyes if it helps them to concentrate. Play music or light a candle to signify that this is a special time.

You could read out the following Chinese wish of hope for the future: 'May your happiness be as wide as the East Sea.'

Go on to invite the children to think about two things that they hope for for their friends and family this year and two good things that they hope for for the world this year.

Publication date: January 2003   (Vol.5 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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