Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum chinese new year fireworks
“Miss Michelle, do you know what the largest country in the world is?” Seeing this as a great way to promote research skills, I encouraged my students to go find out for themselves. They soon came back to report that China is the largest country in both area and population. Inspired by their research, several children soon became entrenched in finding out more about China.

As I watched them pour over atlases, picture books, National Geographic magazines, encyclopedias, and the Internet, it reminded me once again of Montessori’s underlying principal of Cosmic Education. This quintessential approach involves helping children of all ages develop the insight and awareness that everything in the universe is connected and interdependent. While the people, cultures, and traditions may be vastly different, their fundamental needs are all the same. Montessori believed that our job as teachers was to educate children to be responsible citizens of the world who would find ways to live in social, cultural, and environmental harmony. The quest for knowledge leads to the exploration of the eternal childhood questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my role in the world and universe? This quest then leads to wonder about other people and cultures and their place in the universe as well.

Cultural Geography is the study of specific places and peoples and the connections between the two. By celebrating holidays and festivals in your Montessori classroom, you are bringing the traditions and cultures of people around the world into your classroom. Chinese New Year is one such holiday that is enjoyed by children of all ages.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Montessori Classroom

The history of Chinese (Lunar) New Year can be traced back to ancient China. It is said that feudal rulers placed great importance around the festivities to mark the New Year. It has also been regarded as the only day hard-working Chinese peasants afforded themselves a day off. It is celebrated when winter is at its peak, ushering in the promise of spring.

The Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac in 2600 BCE. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cyclical dating of the new moon. This means that the New Year is not constant; it can occur anytime between late January and the middle of February.

The story of the Chinese zodiac tells that Buddha called all animals to him before he left the earth. Only twelve heeded his call to bid him farewell. As a sign of appreciation, Buddha named a year after each animal in the order it arrived. The Chinese believe that a person born under the sign of a particular animal influences his character and behavioral traits.

Preparations for the fifteen-day Chinese New Year celebration begin a full month in advance. People spend time cleaning, decorating, shopping for presents, food and clothing. House cleaning takes on major importance as family members clean from top to bottom to rid the house of any ‘bad luck’. Doors and window frames are freshly painted, usually red, to ward off evil spirits. They are then decorated with papercut decorations bearing the themes of wealth, happiness, and longevity.

Traditionally, red clothing is worn to represent joy and happiness. Black and white are never worn as they represent mourning. Married couples present children or younger relatives with red envelopes containing money with which to buy treats. Families stay up through the night playing games. Fireworks are set off at midnight to welcome the New Year.

NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum chinese new year orangesFlowers – In ancient as well as modern China, emphasis is given to natural decorations. The two flowers that have come to symbolize Chinese New Year are the plum blossom, which represents courage and hope, and the water narcissus, which represents good luck and fortune. It is said if the water narcissus blooms on New Year’s Day, there will be good luck throughout the year.

Tangerines and Oranges - Tangerines and oranges are frequently found in homes and stores during the New Year. Tangerines are symbolic of good luck and oranges are represent wealth.

Traditionally, New Year’s dinner is a feast of seafood and dumplings, symbolizing prosperity and good wishes. Chinese New Year dishes include prawns for liveliness and pleasure, dried oysters for all things good in life, raw fish salad to usher in good luck and prosperity, dumplings boiled in water signifying a long-lost good wish for a family and Fai-hai (Angel Hair), edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity for the family.

NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum chinese new year dragon dance
Dragon Dance and Parade
Associated with long life and prosperity, the dragon parades and dances are an integral part of the celebration. Inside the elaborate costume, there may be up to 50 trained martial arts dancers. These street celebrations include many exploding firecrackers. The loud noise made by the firecrackers signifies the getting rid of sadness or bad events of last year and ushering in a good and prosperous coming year.

The Year of the Ox
This year, 2009, is the Year of the Ox. The Ox is characterized as a dependable, patient, methodical and calm, hardworking, materialistic as well as an ambitious character.
It is said that people born in the Chinese New Year of Ox, 2009 will have the following traits:
  • Leadership
  • dependable
  • great organizers
  • reliable
  • logical
  • loyal
  • patient
  • strong
  • responsible
Future employers can look forward to having “ox” work for them as they are believed to possess strong work ethics as well as being highly creative.

In my next blog, I will offer some suggestions on organizing a Chinese New Year celebration in your classroom. For more on celebrations around the world visit: Montessori Classrooms Celebrate Holidays Around the World .
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.


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