Activities & Lessons

10 Chinese New Year Classroom Activities: Throw a Lunar New Year Party

6 Min Read
Hero Chinese Dragon

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is celebrated by billions of people each year and is the most significant holiday on the Chinese calendar. Many Asian countries observe Lunar New Year in their own ways. The holiday is known as Tet in Vietnam, Solnal in North and South Korea, and Losar in Tibet. However, in this article, we highlight Chinese traditions and use Chinese and Lunar New Year interchangeably.

Celebrating Lunar New Year with your class presents an opportunity to explore a multitude of topics. Primary and middle school teachers can tie the holiday into units on immigration, cultural awareness, symbolism, geography, and more.

In fact, about a quarter of the world’s population participates in the 15-day festival with symbolic traditions and rituals that celebrate family, renewal, prosperity, and good fortune. Your class can have a day-long party or stretch out the festivities over all 15 days, exploring along the way the symbolism and traditions behind each day.

We pulled together a list of some fun Lunar New Year activities for students to celebrate in the classroom.

Chinese New Year Activities for Elementary and Middle School Students

1. Wear Red Clothes

Red is symbolic of wealth and good fortune in China, making the color synonymous with Lunar New Year. Encourage your students to wear red for good fortune in the new year. Red is also seen as a weapon to scare away monsters.

2. Do Some Cleaning

Cleaning is an important part of the Chinese New Year traditions. Families clean their homes leading up to the New Year as a way to “sweep away” bad luck from the past year and start fresh. Keep in mind that cleaning on the actual day is discouraged for fear that you will sweep or wash away your good luck!

Discuss with students why cleaning one’s home is an important Chinese New Year tradition. You can also mention that cleaning might emphasize starting the year with a clean slate. Then, consider doing a bit of cleaning and organizing in your classroom, or ask students to think of ways they can spruce up their homes with their families.

3. Play Dominoes

On New Year’s Eve, children stay up late playing games. The Chinese invented dominoes back in the 12th century, which makes dominoes a fitting game for the holiday. Have your students use dominoes to make patterns, solve basic math problems, or create chain reactions to teach the domino effect.

4. Eat Dumplings and Mandarin Oranges

Food and feasting are a major part of the traditions. In particular, the Chinese eat dumplings to symbolize moving away from the old and welcoming the new. Similarly, oranges are eaten because their golden color represents wealth.

5. Hold a Lantern Festival or Dragon Dance

The 15th day of Lunar New Year culminates in a Lantern Festival, which is often a public parade including paper lanterns and a dancing paper dragon. Challenge your class to get creative by making their own paper lanterns and dragons for your party.

6. Discover New Words

Whether students are familiar with the Lunar New Year or not, you can use the holiday as an opportunity to build their vocabulary. Then, have students build a word wall or visual dictionary. Here are potential new words students might encounter while learning about the holiday:

Calligraphy

Chinese zodiac

Customs

Dragon boat

Festival

Firecrackers

Good luck/good fortune

Lantern

Lunar calendar

Mandarin

New moon

Nian/Guo Nian (“Nian” means “year”/“Guan Nian” means “the passing of the beast,”“to pass over Nian,” or “to overcome Nian”)

Symbols/symbolism

Tet (the Vietnamese New Year)

Traditions

7. Talk about Symbolism

As you can see, much of this holiday is steeped in symbolism, with names, colors, and myths all contributing to various meanings. Another way to approach symbolism is through the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. 2024 is the Year of the Dragon (beginning on February 10 and ending on January 28, 2025), and each zodiac sign plays a huge part in the year ahead. Have students research the meaning behind the zodiac animal from their birth year. Chances are your class will be split between two birth years, so to cover all 12 animals in the zodiac, you may need to assign beyond birth years.

8. Discuss Other Cultures and Holidays

While Lunar New Year is celebrated by more than a billion people worldwide, chances are high that this could be your elementary and middle school students’ first time actually celebrating. To introduce the holiday, try posing some of these questions to your class for a discussion or short writing assignment.

  • How is Lunar New Year celebrated in your community? How has it been celebrated by people in the past? How are these traditions similar? How are they different?
  • What traditions and holidays are celebrated in your community?
  • What are some other holidays that are celebrated in the world but not by your family or community?

Some other culturally significant holidays you can discuss include: Holi, Ramadan, Guy Fawkes Night, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Bodhi Day, Día de los Muertos, and Bastille Day.

9. Compare Celebrations and Traditions

Many countries, such as China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, celebrate the Lunar New Year. Help students research two Asian countries that observe the holiday to compare. Then, have students use a Venn diagram or chart to compare celebrations and traditions, such as:

  • What foods do they eat?
  • What clothing do they wear?
  • What decorations do they have?
  • What are other customs they have?

10. Conduct a Read-Aloud

Interactive read-alouds provide the chance to build community and ignite conversations in the classroom. For a Chinese New Year activity for students, consider reading a book to young readers to help them better understand the holiday, such as Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan and Timothy Banks (Grades 1–3).

The book’s version of the legend of Nian [nee-anne] tells the story of the origins of Chinese New Year traditions. In the story, the dragon Nian (“nian” is the Chinese word for “year”) threatens a village each spring. Mei, the young heroine of the story, defeats the dragon. Every spring, Mei gives a food offering to the statue of Nian to scare away the dragon. The book weaves in words associated with the holiday’s traditions and ways people celebrate the Lunar New Year, such as wearing red clothes, hanging red lanterns, and launching impressive firework displays (a tradition for warding off evil). Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon provides plenty of opportunities for a fruitful discussion with students.

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang (Grades K–4), Celebrate the World: Lunar New Year by Hannah Eliot (Grades K–3), and PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year by (Grades 1–4) are also books that introduce elementary-aged students to Lunar New Year or various Asian cultures.

More Lunar New Year Activities for Students?

Have any additional examples of Chinese New Year activities for elementary and middle school students? Share your favorites with us on Instagram or Facebook, or email us at shaped@hmhco.com.

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Check out these fun New Years activities for students.

Want to further immerse your students in other cultures and traditions? Learn more about our social studies curriculum.

This blog, originally published in 2019, has been updated for 2024.

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