A short history of Chinese New Year for teachers

Chinese communities across the world celebrate the Chinese New Year in magnificent and colourful ways. The Chinese New Year is also often celebrated in schools and classrooms, so knowing a few details about it is useful for every teacher.

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is the biggest Chinese holiday. Traditionally, it used to be celebrated for a whole month, but in the modern day, the duration of the celebration is often only 3-5 days.

Many rituals and routines are the part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, such as red-coloured decorations, ritual cleaning of homes before the New Year eve, and gift giving, feasts and family reunions, and street parades on the night of the New Year and in the subsequent few days of celebration.

What is the connection to the Chinese Zodiac?

The Chinese new year celebrations are arranged in cycles counting 12 years, each represented by an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. The belief is that the person born in a particular year will have the attributes of an animal to which the year is dedicated. That especially goes for the character. The Chinese Zodiac analyzes and psychological features of people based on the year they were born in great depth.


Why is Chinese New Year celebrated at a different date each year?

The Chinese New Year occurs on a different date every year because the ancient Chinese followed a lunar calendar. When looking at a lunar calendar, the new year begins on the first night of the new moon after the Sun enters the constellation of Aquarius. 

Origins of the Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is such an ancient holiday that no one is really sure how it came to be. Still, many legends about its origins exist and have survived to this date.

One of those legends is the one about a creature called Nian - a name which means "year" in Chinese. Nian appeared one night before the New Year and started to prey on villagers of the surrounding villages. An old man decided to put a stop to this. He went to the beast and told him that he should not feed on people, but on other beasts which commonly frightened the villagers. Nian listened to him and chased all of these beasts back to the forests. The villagers were grateful to the old man, and to their surprise, he came back riding on Nian's back - it turned out he was a god. Before leaving the area, he advised the villagers to put up the red decorations on their windows and doors, and to use the gunpowder, all to scare away the beasts that used to frighten them. And people took his advice, at the same time scaring the beasts and celebrating the salvation that the deity brought to them.

Exploring this, and many other legends concerning the Chinese New Year is a great way to educate your students about the particular holiday, as well as about Chinese traditional beliefs and culture. The Chinese New Year has a great potential for classroom programmes, crafts, and celebrations, so bringing a bit of the Chinese New Year luck into your class is sure to be rewarding.