Celebrated all over China and southeast Asia, including Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, Lunar New Year (also known as Chinese New Year) is a time to spend with family and wish luck and happiness for the coming year. This year is the year of the Rooster. Here, some ideas for your family to share in this symbolic, colorful cultural celebration.
Make little purses: Most of the food of Chinese New Year symbolizes wishes for the coming year. Dumplings and potstickers represent purses full of money and wealth. Just sauté green onions, minced ginger and garlic, plus a tablespoon of five-spice powder over medium heat and add ground beef. Cook until browned, and set aside to cool. Fill store-bought wonton wrappers with 1 Tbsp. of the mixture, fold the wonton wrapper in half, and use your finger or a pastry brush to wet the edges of the wontons with a little egg or water, then pinch the edges of the dumplings to seal the filling inside. Place the dumplings in a steamer basket (line it with lettuce or cabbage leaves to prevent sticking), and steam for 12 to 15 minutes, or pan-fry the dumplings in vegetable oil until golden brown. You can also order some from your favorite take-out place or pick up a box from the freezer section of your grocery store.
Eat pork buns: A popular snack in China, barbecue-flavored, pork-wrapped buns symbolize prosperity and a full life (including wealth and happiness). Here’s how to make them: Using refrigerated biscuits, roll each into a 6-inch circle and fill with 4 Tbsp. premade pulled pork (either from your favorite recipe or from the refrigerated section of the grocery store). Fold the dough over to enclose the filling, or pinch edges together toward the center to close. Brush with milk, sprinkle sesame seeds on top and bake at 350°F until the bread is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Bake coin cookies: These peanut cookies look like coins and symbolize wealth and prosperity. Roll refrigerated peanut-butter cookie dough into walnut-sized balls and place a shelled, whole roasted peanut in the center. Bake at 350°F for 8 to 9 minutes.
Peel an orange: Asian cultures consider oranges as symbols of luck for the coming year (in fact, the word for “orange” in Mandarin sounds like the Mandarin word for “luck”). They’re preferably served whole as gifts to wish a long life – so peel a few and enjoy!
Light the night: In Chinese culture, the color red symbolizes joy and good fortune, so you’ll see red in every Lunar New Year celebration. To make lanterns, brush the outside of a clean, clear glass jar (like a spaghetti sauce jar without the label) with white glue and attach red squares of tissue paper. Once the jar is covered, brush the lantern again with white glue and let it dry completely. Place a tea light inside to cast a warm glow over your celebration.
Try origami: Origami is an ancient tradition in Japan, and even the littlest kids love the shapes they can make with just a sheet of paper. Get started with the Melissa & Doug origami set to create boats, butterflies, cups and more. (All ages. $6.99, amazon.com).
Learn to use chopsticks: Now’s as good a time as ever to teach the art of using chopsticks, and the “cheater” sets are festive and easy to use. This set features all 12 symbolic animals of Lunar New Year: the horse, snake, ox, ram, dragon, tiger, rat, rooster, rabbit, monkey, pig and dog. ($5.99 for two dozen, orientaltrading.com).
Make a dragon: Beautiful Chinese-style dragons symbolize power, strength and good luck. Make a kid version with multi-colored paper chains. Glue a red tongue and big googly eyes to one end of the chain, and draw scales onto the chain links with a black marker. Glue the top third of a craft stick to the side of every fifth link and the dragon becomes a slithering puppet.
For more fun print out a Lunar New Year word search game on scholastic.com.