Activities & Lessons
Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is celebrated by billions of people 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. Elementary 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 some fun Chinese New Year classroom activities for your Lunar New Year class party.
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
This may not be the most exciting Chinese New Year classroom activity, but cleaning is an important part of Chinese 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!
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. 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. 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, 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.
7. 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.
More Chinese New Year School Activities?
Check out these fun New Year's activities for students.
Want to further immerse your students in other cultures and traditions? Learn more about HMH'sprogram for K–6 students.
This blog, originally published in 2019, has been updated for 2022.