Friday, February 5, 2010

Chinese New Year

When I read the autobiography of a Chinese peasant in Mao’s Last Dancer, it certainly sunk in how important the New Year is in that culture. With the four thousand year old holiday approaching on February 14, I turned to Chinese New Year to learn more. Explained in a straight-forward way is how it began as a way to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring planting. The time of planting new crops was thought of as the beginning of a new year. Why dragons and firecrackers are so significant also became clear as did the ways it is believed to bring good luck into your home and life. Custom dictates that your year start fresh by thoroughly cleaning house, paying off debts and asking forgiveness. That's inspiring!

Ages 4-8

This novel ends, interestingly enough, with the inhabitants of a tiny, early 19th century town in Montana learning how to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Based on real events, Laurence Yep's main character in When the Circus Came to Town is Usurla. She is a self assured rebel rouser until she gets small pox, and along it, deep scars on her face. Ashamed and depressed, she's determined to lead a life of seclusion. Then her parents hire a Chinese cook, Ah Sam, to help in their stage coach station. Working in America in order to send money back to his wife and child in China, the cook takes a special interest in Ursula and is able to eventually coax her out of isolation. Her biggest wish is to see a circus and she admits the opportunity to see one could entice her beyond the confines of their home/stagecoach stop. So Ah Sam invites his cousins to perform for the town. When the acrobats are set to return to San Francisco in time for New Year's they are snowed in. That is when the town gets involved in helping them celebrate. A very creative story plot!

Ages 9-12

Activity: It is customary for the Chinese to start their New Year fresh and clean. So clean your room and then decorate it with these lanterns you can make yourself.

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