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For many years, I have been invited to elementary schools to talk about Chinese New Year. Teachers have often asked me to do some fun activities such as telling a story about the new year, showing colorful artifacts, and serving Chinese New Year food. I have been so carried away by these activities that I did not ask myself if I really made an impact on my audience. Last year, however, in a class I had visited three years in a row on Chinese New Year, my approach caught up with me: I found out that the students could not answer the simplest questions about the Chinese New Year.
This experience made me think about the ways we currently teach cultural holidays in schools. Teachers do a good job when it comes to the fun part of holidays, but they lack the tools to assist their students in reaching an understanding of the various festivals they explore with them. Thus, I decided to write a book to help teachers introduce Chinese New Year to their students in depth. In Exploring the Meaning of Chinese New Year: Some Ideas for Teachers (Traffort, 2005), I go beyond the traditional fun approach in teaching cultural holidays by focusing on exploring the meanings associated with the Chinese New Year celebration. There are two versions of the book—a long version and a short version. In each, to help students reach a deeper understanding of this cultural holiday, the book starts with a reflection on the new year celebration experiences in the students’ own cultural communities. Built on this reflection, the book then introduces students to the Chinese New Year celebration traditions, rituals, customs, and themes. A variety of activities, reflections and questions expose the students to more complex picture of the Chinese New Year celebration and challenge them to think about the symbolic meanings embedded in this holiday. Not only are the students introduced to a different Chinese New Year, but they also may come out of the experience having a renewed understanding of their own traditional holidays.
Although I am an empirical researcher, writing a book of this nature was a rewarding experience. Since the publication of the book, I have received positive comments from teachers. Encouraged by them, I am currently collaborating with the award-wining artist Susan Obrant on another series of books on Chinese holidays for young children.