In anticipation of the Lunar New Year, our Fieldston Middle students have been excitedly learning more about this important holiday. Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the lunar calendar and is one of the most significant celebrations among East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures. We visited Language Department Chair Xiaofei Li’s Chinese language classes to see how she and her students enjoyed the occasion.
Central to Lunar New Year celebrations is food. In Li’s 8th Grade classes, students were busy making traditional dumplings — jiǎozi in Mandarin. After Li demonstrated how to properly make a dumpling, students hit the ground running — carefully filling their dumpling wrappers with a mixture that included ground pork, cabbage, salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil. “My 8th Grade students are currently studying the Chinese food unit, so making dumplings gives them hands-on experience in preparing traditional food for a celebration,” says Li.
Native to many countries, including China, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and more, Lunar New Year is a time to gather to eat delicious food, honor ancestors and deities, and prepare for the upcoming year.
Each culture celebrates the Lunar New Year differently, with various foods and traditions that symbolize prosperity, abundance, and togetherness. Among Chinese cultures, fish is typically included as the last course of a New Year’s Eve meal for good luck and meals often feature foods like glutinous rice ball soup and moon-shaped rice cakes.
According to Li, “learning about and celebrating the Lunar New Year is an important part of my curriculum, and each grade has its unique activity. I hope to share the joy of celebrating the Lunar New Year with them by doing festive activities together.”
Lunar New Year celebrations typically conclude with a Lantern Festival. Parades, dances, and games mark the finale of the holiday. Later in the day, Li’s 7th Grade classroom was bustling with students crafting decorative cutouts and origami. “The ‘春 (spring)’ and ‘福 (blessing/good fortune)’ paper cutouts made by my 7th Grade group will be used to decorate our classroom,” explains Li.
Students learned that each year in the Lunar calendar is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals included in the cycle of 12 stations or “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos, with each animal corresponding to an element.
This year is the year of the rabbit, which is associated with the earthly branch, so students decorated their cutouts using patterns that resembled a rabbit! Within the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit symbolizes intellect and cautiousness and speaks to the power of empathy.
Next week, Li’s 6th Grade class will create and display posters to introduce the Lunar New Year.
For those celebrating, may the new year bring you good health and good fortune!