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Chinese New Year: Gung hei fat choi! Happy new year!

To reflect on Chinese new year.

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Key Stage 3

Aims

To reflect on Chinese new year.

Preparation and materials

  • Chinese new year 2010 begins 14 February.
  • You will need two readers.
  • There are wonderful images of Chinese new year on Google Images.

Assembly

  1. We are going to try a little Chinese today. Let’s all say together: ‘Gung hei fat choi!’ Now turn to the person next to you and say it again: ‘Gung hei fat choi!’

    What do you think we are all saying to one another? Take suggestions. It means happy new year in Chinese, and on 14 February this year people in China, and from Chinese backgrounds all over the world, will be wishing one another ‘Gung hei fat choi!’
  2. So what happens at this important festival? Listen and [the two readers] will tell you a bit about it.

    Reader 1:  Chinese new year is also known as the Spring Festival and it is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The spring festival celebrates the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing. Agricultureis the most important economic sector of China, employing over 300 million people.

    China ranks first in worldwide farm output, primarily producing rice, wheat and potatoes as well as peanuts, tea, millet, barley, cotton, oilseed, pork and fish. This makes the festival very important for the coming year; it holds the hopes of many people.

    Reader 2:  New year celebrations start on the first day of the lunar month (new moon) and continue for two weeks until the moon is at its brightest. This year it begins on 14 February. The first week is celebrated with visits to friends and family that follow particular traditions in order to bring the family luck for that year.

    Reader 1:  Chinese new year is the oldest Chinese festival and has many customs. For example, before the start of celebrations, Chinese people spring clean their houses to sweep away bad luck. On new year’s eve, all brooms, dustpans and brushes are put away and no more cleaning is done to avoid good luck being swept away. This seems a nice way to usher in the good fortune for the year to come.

    Reader 2:  Like at Christmas, houses are decorated, often with paper scrolls with good luck phrases on such as ‘Happiness’ and ‘Wealth’. It shows the hope for luck for the coming year for you personally, and for your family and friends. Again, similarly to other festivals, families come together to celebrate and to have a meal together. People will stay up until midnight setting off fireworks to frighten away evil spirits.

    Red is an important colour at this time: it symbolizes fire, which will scare away evil spirits that may harm people in the year ahead. People may dress from head to foot in new red clothing. On new year’s day children will wake up to find a red envelope filled with money, and sweets, under their pillows, left by their parents and grandparents. It must be very difficult not to peek!

    Reader 1:  The second week ends with the lantern festival, which takes place on the evening of the last day. The lanterns are often hand-painted with scenes from history or legend. People hang glowing lanterns at the windows of their houses and carry lanterns under the light of the full moon. There is often a dragon dance, with a dragon made of paper, silk and bamboo held aloft by young men and guided around, while money is collected.

    Reader 2:  In some countries, especially here in the UK, the festivities are shortened, so that the lantern festival is brought forward to the first day of the new year celebrations. Parades take place with dragon dancing and brightly coloured lanterns. Key areas in the UK that have large Chinese new year celebrations are Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and especially London, where there is a large celebration in Trafalgar Square.
  3. So as you can see, these celebrations and wishes for the new year are not much different from our own. I wish I could wake up on 14 February with some money under my pillow! Just one more thing. The Chinese are very big on astrology and their zodiac. The Chinese zodiac is a 12-year cycle, with a different animal sign for each year. The 12 original animals are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. So you have the year of the ox, the tiger, the rooster and the year of the rat. Why not try and work out which animal’s year you were born in and see if the traits associated with that animal bear any resemblance to your personality? You might be surprised!

    Finally – turn to the person on the other side of you and say: ‘Gung hei fat choi!’ .

Time for reflection

Prayer
‘Gung hei fat choi’ to us all.
A year of peace and tranquillity.
A year of growing up with patience and kindness,
growing nearer to our friends, not further apart,
and of peace in our world.
‘Gung hei fat choi’ to us all.

Hymn

‘Lord of all hopefulness’ (Come and Praise, 52)

Publication date: February 2010   (Vol.12 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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