Are you a parent trying to figure out what you can do with your kids during the Chinese (Lunar) New Year? Fear not, we’ve got you covered with these five fun-filled activities!
#1 Cook a Yummy Meal Together (Chinese New Year Activities)
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 when 100 people visit and can be kept for the week of the new year. With my own small family during Covid, I share three of my favorite basic dishes for our Lunar New Year table.
Meatballs are a must – to signify 圆圆满满 – 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 the meatballs for meatball congee, meatball spaghetti, meatball burgers 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.
Special Occasion Shrimp (S.O.S.)— for the Cantonese side of me, shrimp is pronounced “ha” and signifies “哈哈大笑” – a year of laughter. S.O.S. is my term because my daughter says that I always cook this on special occasions. You can try this recipe by Morgane.
Cantonese Steamed Fish – there must be a fish for every Chinese New Year table to signify 年年有余 – a year of abundance. I usually prepare a simple Cantonese style fish similar to this recipe in The Woks of Life.
#2 Play a Card Game (Chinese New Year Activities)
Ban-Luck or Chinese Black Jack
Growing up in Singapore, the Chinese New Year card game we always looked forward to was Ban-Luck. Flushed with Red Packet (Hong Bao) money, the kids would play at the same table as adults with small bets. Yes, it IS gambling. Some families played with fake money but our family of uncles, aunties, cousins on the Cantonese side of the family would have raucous fun playing this simple game. Here’s a Time Out Singapore article on how to play. 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 hong bao money! Actually the grown-ups often let the kids win.
Dòu dìzhǔ斗地主 Fight the landowner
I’ve never played this game before but our Shanghainese intern told us that it is very popular with young people in China. Emerging out of the 1950s class struggle in China, this game pits the Landowner (地主) against the peasants（农民）. But over the years, it’s just become a fun game during the Spring Festival. This is a fun video in Cantonese teaching you how to play Dou Di Zhu and here’s the Wikipedia entry with rules. I’m going to learn how to play this game with my family this new year.
#3 Make Your Own 春联 Or Spring Couplet (Chinese New Year Activities)
Decorations are getting everyone into the new year 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 and you can get creative with them and post your own wishes on them.
– Calligraphy brush (毛笔) or black markers
– Red calligraphy paper or construction pager
– Ink (墨) if you’re using brushes
– Some gold ink
#4 Watch a Funny Cheesy Chinese Movie (Chinese New Year Activities)
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 or Chinese New Year movie. It is usually raucous, cheesy, and funny, involves an ensemble cast, and ends happily. When I lived in New York, it became a time to binge-watch Chinese movies by Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Stephen Chow movie and always felt good to share these movies as a family.
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 (Chinese New Year Activities)
The Lantern Festival, also known as 元宵节, is celebrated on the last day (15th day) of the first lunar month to mark the end of the Lunar New Year festivities. This festival honours our ancestors, and it is usually celebrated by carrying colourful lanterns around and eating glutinous rice balls (汤圆) to signify ‘reunion’. As the paper lantern is a key element during the Lantern Festival, one activity that you can consider doing is to make your own paper lanterns!
There are various types of lanterns you can make:
- Lanterns for little kids
- Red packet lanterns
- Pretty lanterns
- Simple Lantern
- Ideas for multiple types of DIY lanterns
And after all the eating and festivities, take a nap, and gear up for this new Tiger Year! Hope you all have a safe, prosperous, and fierce Year of the Tiger!
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