Are you a parent trying to figure out what you can do with your kids during the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year—if you’re far away from relatives or if you’re just trying to avoid crowds?
Fear not, we’ve got you covered with these five fun-filled family activities you can stay at home to do!
#1: COOK A YUMMY MEAL TOGETHER
Get the whole family to make a yummy meal together!
In my mother’s side of the family (which is Hokkien), each person often contributes a dish with a few soups and stews that can last the whole day (if not week), in case 100 people visit! Here are three of my favorite basic dishes for my small family.
MEATBALLS 肉丸 Ròu wán
Meatballs are a must to signify 圆圆满满 (yuán yuánmǎn mǎn: completion and wholeness) for the year.
It’s really fun to get the kids involved in rolling the balls. I have used this recipe by Maggie Zhu several times and often make a lot more than I need so that I can freeze them for meatball congee, meatball spaghetti, meatball burgers, etc. on days that I need to whip up a quick meal.
Last year, my uncle, aunties and grandma made these meatballs simultaneously in three different locations and shared out pictures and videos throughout New Year’s eve.
Here’s a video you can follow:
SPECIAL OCCASION SHRIMP (S.O.S.)
Shrimp 虾 (Xiā in Mandarin) is pronounced “ha” in Cantonese. For the Cantonese side of my family, it signifies 哈哈大笑 (hā hā dà xiào)—a year of raucous laughter.
Deep-fried battered shrimp became known as “S.O.S.” in our family because my daughter says that I always cook this on special occasions.
You can try this recipe!
CANTONESE STEAMED FISH
There must be a fish for every Chinese New Year table to signify 年年有余 (nián nián yǒuyú): a year of abundance.
I usually prepare a simple Cantonese style fish similar to this recipe from The Woks of Life.
#2: PLAY A CARD GAME
Ban Luck or Chinese Blackjack
Growing up in Singapore, the Chinese New Year card game we always looked forward to was Ban Luck.
Basically Blackjack with variations, especially with regards to the role of the dealer, Ban Luck (the Hokkien pronunciation of ‘万力’ wàn lì, meaning 10,000 efforts) is known in Mandarin as 二十一点 Èrshíyī diǎn, literally: 21 points).
Flush with 红包 hóngbāo (red packet/envelope) money, the kids would play at the same table as adults, just with smaller bets. Yes, it IS gambling, but hey, gambling is a big part of Chinese social life, for better or for worse! Some families played with fake money, but my family of uncles, aunties and cousins on the Cantonese side of the family would have raucous fun playing this simple game.
The advantage of Ban Luck is that the table can expand or contract as family members come and go. It is for this reason that it is more suited to family gatherings than mahjong. As a kid, I felt quite good winning money from the grownups and growing my hongbao money! (Actually the grown-ups often let the kids win)
Fight the Landlord
I was introduced to 斗地主 (Dòu dìzhǔ: Fight the Landlord) by our Shanghainese intern. It’s apparently very popular with young people on the mainland.
Emerging out of the 1950s class struggle in China, this game pits the Landlord/Landowner (地主) against the peasants（农民）. But over the years, it’s just become a fun game during the Spring Festival.
Here is the Wikipedia article with its rules and here’s a video in Mandarin on how to play it.
#3: MAKE YOUR OWN 春联 SPRING COUPLETS
Decorations get everyone into the festive mood!
After Spring Cleaning (which is normally done before the eve of Chinese New Year), many families will decorate their houses with paper cuttings (剪纸), door couplets, new year paintings, upside down Fu (福) to welcome prosperity, and many more!
This year, instead of the all the commercially printed Chinese New Year decorations, you can try making your own 春联 (chūnlián, Spring Festival Couplets). Get creative with them and post your own wishes on them!
- Calligraphy brush (毛笔) or black markers
- Red calligraphy paper or construction pager (they can be square or rectangular)
- Ink (墨) if you’re using brushes
- Some gold ink
Here are some samples we made in the Year of the Tiger:
#4: WATCH A CHINESE MOVIE
Every year, after all the visiting is done in the morning, my family heads out to the cinema to watch the latest 贺岁片(hèsuì piān) or Chinese New Year movie. These are usually raucous, cheesy and funny feel-good movies with large ensemble casts, and always end happily. When I lived in New York, it became a time to binge-watch Chinese movies by Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Stephen Chow with family and friends.
Here are some recommendations:
Shaolin Soccer 少林足球 (2001)
Kung Fu Hustle 功夫 (2004)
Wang Baoqiang (these are really quite cheesy films)
Lost in Thailand 人在囧途之泰囧 （2014）
Lost on Journey 人在囧途 （2010）
Comrades: Almost a Love Story 甜蜜蜜 (1996) (thoughtful and arty and oh so touching – not cheesy)
Hero 英雄 (2002) (arty film – not cheesy)
Taiji Master 太极张三丰 (1993)
Wing Chun 咏春 (1994) (my all-time favorite because the kung fu is so good and because Michelle Yeoh is amazing in this one)
Drunken Master 2 醉拳二 （1994）
Shaolin 新少林寺 （2011）
Journey to the West
Wu Kong 悟空传（2017）
#5: MAKE YOUR OWN LANTERN
The last day of the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, 元宵节 (Yuánxiāo jié), is celebrated on the last day (15th day) of the first lunar month to mark the end of the festivities.
Often translated as “the Lantern Festival”, 元宵 actually means ‘Closing of the First’.
This festival honours our ancestors, and most Chinese communities eat glutinous rice balls (汤圆 tāngyuán) as they sound like 团圆 (tuányuán), meaning ‘reunion’.
Perhaps most famously in Taiwan, it is celebrated with lots of colourful lanterns. (In Southeast Asia, however, 元宵节 is not celebrated with lanterns. That’s kept for the Mid-Autumn Festival.)
As paper lanterns are a key element during the Lantern Festival, you might want to make your own paper lanterns!
There are various types of lanterns you can make:
TAKE A BREAK! CELEBRATING IS HARD WORK!
After all the eating and festivities, take a nap, and gear up for this new Lunar Year! We wish everyone a safe and prosperous Year of the Rabbit!
You might also enjoy reading our special Lunar New Year story CELEBRATING IS HARD WORK! 庆祝好累人! To read it, you have to be a CLUB or PLUS+ Member.
Liked this post? Check these other posts out:
- Chinese New Year Greetings for the Year of the Rabbit
- 正月調 15 Commandments of Chinese New Year