Some countries in Asia celebrate the Gregorian New Year on January 1st. Some countries celebrate the Lunar New Year according to the lunar calendar. Some celebrate both.
There are many names for Lunar New Year depending on the culture, country, and language. People in China celebrate the Chinese New Year or Chunjie. Tibetans celebrate Losar. Vietnamese people celebrate Tết. Koreans celebrate Seollal. Mongolians celebrate Tsagaan Sar. All of these holidays fall on or around the same date in the lunar calendar.
While a mainstream teacher might teach about Chinese New Year, a multicultural teacher will explore the cultures and traditions across a region to give their students a thorough understanding of Lunar New Year that goes beyond basic knowledge and stereotypes.
Tip 1: Bust Lunar New Year Stereotypes
I remember my first year as a teacher trying to find resources that did not center around the Chinese New Year. Because Asia is a large continent with many cultures, I wanted to teach about more than one Lunar New Year celebration. Most resources available only discussed Lunar New Year in the context of China and the Chinese New Year. But teaching Chinese New Year without including other Lunar New Year celebrations paints a false understanding about the cultures and countries in Asia.
New year traditions in China dominate the available resources for teachers, and this has several negative effects.
- It creates a lack of awareness about the depth of cultures in East and Southeast Asia. By oversimplifying Lunar New Year traditions, the traditions of other cultures like Tết in Vietnam or Losar in Tibet are left out. The diaspora of people from Asia around the world has made the Lunar New Year a holiday that is celebrated globally.
- Teaching the Lunar New Year as a monolithic holiday reinforces stereotypes and misunderstandings about Asia as a monolithic place or a monolithic culture. There are numerous celebrations of the Lunar New Year all with their own histories and cultural traditions. Tibet, Vietnam, Mongolia, South Korea, North Korea, and several other countries celebrate the Lunar New Year. They may share some things in common, but the traditions are unique to each culture.
- Too often, students learn about the same countries over and over again. The countries that students learn about are usually economic powerhouses, and while that is important for understanding the development of the world, students leave school with poor geographic and cultural literacy. By broadening your lessons to include other countries, students will have a more informed and accurate worldview and will be able to speak about the world more accurately.
Asia is the largest continent with incredible cultural diversity. By spending time learning about the many histories and traditions of each distinct country and culture, we begin to undo the harmful stereotypes that we unknowingly reinforce by solely teaching about Chinese New Year as a representation of all Lunar New Year celebrations, when they are in fact very different.
Tip 2: Teach these Traditions in addition to Chinese New Year
1. Tết in Vietnam
In Vietnam, Tết is a celebration and reflection of the past year. Tết is short for Tết Nguyen Dan meaning “Feast of the very First Morning” in Vietnamese. It marks the first day of spring and is the most important holiday in the country. Like most other celebrations, Tết lasts for seven to nine days. It is a chance for a fresh start to begin the year.
2. Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia
Mongolia’s New Year is called Tsagaan Sar (Sy-gon Sar) which means White Moon Festival. It falls on the first new moon after the winter solstice, which is usually in February. It is one of the most important holidays in Mongolia. The holiday began in 1206 as a day to honor peace, kindness, and respect among Mongols.
3. Chunjie in China
In China, Lunar New Year is called Chinese New Year or Chunjie (Chun-jee-eh). The festival is around 3,500 years old. People celebrate the Lunar New Year with parades, fireworks, and feasts with their families. The Lantern Festival is 15 days later on the first full moon. Cities are decorated in red, the color of good luck.
4. Losar in Tibet
Losar is celebrated in Tibet, which is older than Buddhism. It was once a spiritual ceremony that later became a festival for Buddhist farmers when the flowers began to blossom. Over time, Losar became a Buddhist holiday that follows the lunar calendar. Losar lasts for three days.
Tip 3: Explore Lunar New Year with Crafts
Crafts are a great way to learn about other cultures because they allow you to participate in the culture! For example, a common tradition for Lunar New Year is to give red envelopes full of money to children and family members. Students can have this culture experience by creating their own red envelopes and giving “Good Luck Bucks” that they earn by doing acts of kindness in your classroom. This is a hands-on way to teach about holiday traditions around the world.
Our Lunar New Year resource includes a Red Envelope Lunar New Year craft. The resource includes 6 articles about Lunar New Year traditions in China, Mongolia, South Korea, Tibet, and Vietnam. The lesson plan is all-inclusive with informational texts, fun activities, and an engaging red envelope craft with a fun way to earn bucks through acts of kindness. Celebrate Lunar New Year traditions in cultures across Asia to give your students the cultural literacy they need to thrive in a global world.