We started the Lunar New Year Committee after realizing that Asian holidays do not get the same recognition as many other holidays from around the world. As sixth graders we had encouraged all of our classmates to sign a petition to make Lunar New Year a school holiday, and this year our goal was to raise awareness about Chinese culture by leading a Lunar New Year celebration that would teach middle school students about Chinese foods, traditions, and attire. With support from Ms. Launa Schweizer, the head of middle school, and our teachers Mr. Young Kim, Ms. Meredith English, and Ms. Emily Gibson, our committee met during lunch and recess for about two months to research Lunar New Year and plan our events. To help us start thinking about what to include in our celebration, we explored our own family traditions and the different ways we each celebrate the Lunar New Year. We realized that there were many ways to celebrate, including having a meal, visiting relatives, and watching fireworks, parades, and live shows.
After thinking about our own family traditions, we researched the different ways Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year. Because they are some of the most widespread and popular, we decided to include Chinese traditions in our middle school celebration. The color red is auspicious in Chinese culture (there are legends that say it represents victory against an evil monster), so we arranged a Lunar New Year dress down day for everyone in the school to wear red instead of their normal school uniforms. For a little treat we gave out red envelopes filled with chocolate to the whole middle school and to teachers and staff throughout the school. Traditionally, the envelopes would contain money as a gift from one’s elders, but we thought chocolate would be delicious. We also arranged for a special lunch featuring chopsticks, beef and broccoli, lo mein, matcha ice cream, and fortune cookies. The red clothing, red envelopes, and traditional meal all symbolized good luck for the year.
We knew it was important to teach our peers about the Lunar New Year and what it means to Asian cultures, so we led a middle school town meeting where we could share what we knew with our classmates. At the town meeting we explained that the Lunar New Year is the observance of the start of a new year in a lunar or lunisolar calendar and is celebrated by people from many Asian countries. We shared that Lunar New Year usually falls in late January or early February and is traditionally a time to bring family together for feasting and to honor household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors. We also used the town meeting to talk about our own family traditions around Lunar New Year.
Organizing a special day to celebrate our holiday was not easy, and this experience made us realize for the first time how much planning and communication it takes to lead an event of this magnitude. We also encountered a few challenges we had to solve. First, there was a miscommunication about our dress down day, which had been scheduled for a day when another event was taking place at school. Ms. Schweizer helped us reschedule the dress down day and communicate the new date to the middle school. Finding chocolate coins to put inside the red envelopes was also difficult. We had to be extra careful to purchase chocolate coins that did not include nuts, soy, or any other major allergens. The first pack of coins we purchased was made in a facility that processes nuts, so we had to return them and buy new ones. Eventually, through tenacity and diligence, we found allergen-free chocolate coins that seemed to be a big hit among the middle schoolers and teachers alike.
Even though it took a lot of work and involved some difficult problem solving, all of our effort to organize a Lunar New Year event for our peers was worth it. Seeing everyone at school wearing red in honor of our culture made us feel seen and celebrated, and watching our classmates learn about and celebrate a part of our culture made us feel represented and respected. Many people came up to us following our town hall presentation to say that they enjoyed learning more about the origin and customs of Lunar New Year. We also received positive feedback for keeping our presentation short and to the point, and many people told us they liked that we made our presentation more personal and engaging by talking about our family traditions and celebrations.
The experience of organizing a Lunar New Year celebration, and the lessons learned from it, are definitely things that the members of our committee will take to upper school and beyond. Planning this celebration was not easy or quick, but in the end, it didn’t matter that we missed some recesses or cut some lunches short, because the results of our efforts were worth every second. Our teachers encouraged us and our school gave us an opportunity to make decisions about how to organize our event, and we feel so lucky that we got to lead our community in a celebration of our holiday. A couple of weeks after our celebration we found out that Lunar New Year will be an official Hewitt school holiday starting in 2021, and it is a great feeling to know that many different cultural traditions and holidays are recognized and represented throughout our school community.
Interested in Learning More?
To learn more about Lunar New Year, the authors recommend the following video resources:
- How Asians Celebrate Lunar New Year Worldwide via Huff Post
- Fortune Tales: The Story of Lunar New Year via PandaExpressTV