Episode 84: (Bonus Episode) Learning About the Lunar New Year

In this bonus episode we look at some great books for learning about the Lunar New Year and its traditions and celebrations. 新年快樂!

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. This week is Chinese New Year–The Lunar New Year. We, as former missionaries in Taiwan, celebrate this every year with lots of fun for my kids, and we have hot pot and dumplings and just enjoy this time. And so I wanted to just take some time to share some fun books with you about the Chinese holiday. And it’s actually not just a Chinese holiday, of course. It’s celebrated in the Vietnamese culture and many, many other Asian cultures. There are some very cute books out there. And when we talk about a holiday that comes from another culture, we are going to bring in some of the worship and habits of people who do not know Jesus. It’s kind of an opportunity to share with your kids and to talk to them about how some people don’t know Jesus. Now, many Christians celebrate Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. That’s not the thing. We mostly celebrate the new year. The main thing I see in these books that you’ll want to talk about is the difference between luck and faith, and that we don’t have to worry about good luck. We have God to bless us, and we have prayer that we can go to Him and ask for what we need, and He will answer according to His will and His wisdom. So it’s an opportunity to really talk about the difference between saying “good luck” and “God bless you,” between wishing and hoping. It can open up some great conversations with our kids about some important theological points that we need them to understand.

So let me jump in with some of the books here. One of the ones I really love is called Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. I love this book because it gives you some of the Chinese words, and it also gives you a lot of the traditions that happen with Chinese new year. It’s just a beautiful little book, fun to read. There are several like it, as far as sharing the different traditions of Chinese New Year and what the families often do. Most families in the Chinese tradition, whether they’re in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the rest of Mainland China, will celebrate in similar ways with, you know, eating hot pot, with eating dumplings, making dumplings. We make the dumplings, of course, that are in the shape of the ancient money because one of the big parts of Chinese New Year is hoping for a financially prosperous new year. They clean the house thoroughly because they’re trying to get rid of any old, bad luck from the year before and come into the new year fresh. But the habit for Christians is also just to have that opportunity to take the time and really clean the house and be able to start the new year fresh. They often pay off debts at the end of the year so that they can start the new year fresh with no debt with no dirt and with new clothes, new haircuts–just a great way to have a really new start for the whole family. God is a God of new beginnings. And so I love new year’s celebrations, whatever tradition you have, to celebrate that starting fresh, starting again, starting new. So this book celebrates that and talks about all the things that they do.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee is another one that shares some of the traditions, but it also includes the different Zodiac animals as Ruby is going to visit her grandma. It has kind of a “Little Red Riding Hood” feel to it. She’s going to take a Chinese New Year card to her grandmother. The animals accompany her in help her get across the river and through the woods to her grandmother’s house–that kind of a feel to it. It’s really cute.

And then we have one Chinese New Year Colors by Rich Lo, and this one’s a little different. It’s a book of colors, and it has a few colors in there I was not expecting like cerulean, but it is a very cute little book of colors. And then it has the Chinese word for the same color, with pinyin to tell you how to try to pronounce it. I recommend going to Google translate and typing it in and letting it pronounce it for you so that you can hear how it should be pronounced. But it’s a great book for teaching colors and some Chinese language.

And then one that I’ve love–and this one is Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen. One of the meals that we have, well, we used to do it every Friday night during the winter, we would have hot pot night and have friends over with hot pot. You put boiling water with a little broth in there, and you put whatever you want in the broth, and it cooks, and you meet around the table and talk and eat and throw more food in the pot and let it cook. And you have little bowls, and they have this wonderful barbecue sauce that we use, and we call it barbecue. It is not a barbecue sauce like we think of in America., It’s salty; it’s delicious. It’s really good. And you put that in there with your hot pot soup, put it in your own bowl. You don’t put it in the big pot. You put it in your own little bowl. It’s just such a fun meal. It’s very interactive. You’re all cooking your own meal. We even throw eggs in there and kind of poach those and eat those. And it’s just a fun festive time.

There’s another one about food called Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin. And this one talks about dim sum, and that’s pretty much from Hong Kong. This is where you have all the different little dishes. You’ll have a little dish of turnip cakes and a little dish of dumplings. And at the end, you’ll have little dishes of the different sweet items that you can get, including the egg tarts, which are our favorite. It’s a really cute book showing the different foods and how dim sum works. These are really great for learning the culture. They’re told usually from kind of a child’s perspective and how that child experiences these different events that happen.

One is called My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz. And at the end, it has the Chinese “Happy New Year” in Cantonese. And of course that’s different from the Mandarin, which is what I’m used to.

And then if you want to know the tradition of the Zodiac and how that happened, it’s not quite the same as the Zodiac in the Western world where we have the different signs and all of that. Although there is some of that to it, but there’s a story behind it where the Jade Emperor wanted to organize the years, so people knew when the new year started. He was creating a calendar, and he decided to assign an animal to every 12 years. So he had the great race. As the animals came in at the end of the race, then he would assign them, “Okay, you’re first–you’re the first year. It goes through the same pattern for 12 years, then you repeat. And so The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey is a cute book that explains the race and makes it a whole fun story.

[Another book I forgot to mention that is beautifully done and includes Chinese, English, and Pinyin in the text is The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Ling and Eric Lee and illustrated by Rachel Foo. This one is available in both simplified and traditional Chinese, and the illustrations are adorable.]

And then another one that’s really cute that’s more for a little bit younger child is The Great Race written and illustrated by Emily Hiles. And this one also rhymes. And it also has the added educational element of teaching numbers. So this one’s really good, especially for your younger children. Wonderful books, really good.

There are so many books! I had to limit what I would talk about. There’s one called Dragon Dance by Joan Holub. It is really cute about the dragon dance and that tradition. And you can also see many dragon dances or lion dances online if you go to YouTube, and those are so much fun to watch, especially to see the athleticism that they now have, where they’re jumping from post to post. Those are more the lion dance. The dragon dance is more the long dance through the parade route. There’s several books about the dragon dance, but I recommend the dragon dance by Joan Holub.

I want to share one more book. One of my absolute favorite books to read about Chinese New Year, especially to children who are not Asian, is Friends Are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu. This book just ministers to my heart. It is such a wonderful picture book. It’s different from any of the others. It’s about this little girl who had her best friend in China, and she moves to America. At first, she’s very lonely, and it talks about right before she leaves China, she celebrates Chinese New Year, and then she comes to America, and it’s very different. She doesn’t have friends. Then she meets one friend, and that friend helps her celebrate Chinese New Year in America with her parents. It’s just such a wonderful book–would be so great for talking with our kids about helping people from other countries feel welcome. If they have classmates or friends in the neighborhood who are from another country, especially if they’re from Asia during this time of year, to reach out to them and celebrate with them and see how they celebrate. It is so fascinating to see the way the different cultures celebrate. I’ve gone to Tet, the Vietnamese New Year’s celebration in the past. Of course, I’ve seen the Chinese celebration in Hong Kong and in Taiwan and in the US. It’s all just so much fun, but what a blessing we could teach our kids to be to those around them. And so I highly recommend this book. Friends Are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu.

We know that God is a God of second chances, a God of new starts, and everything becoming new. I want to end today with a short devotional from the book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones. And I just love this book. And this one is called “Winter.” It says, “In the winter, it looks like the trees have all died. Their leaves wither and drop off. They stand like skeletons against the cold desolate sky. But did you know before even a single leaf falls to the ground, next spring’s bud is ready. Next summer’s leaf is furled inside that tiny bud waiting. And Jesus says there is nothing broken that won’t be mended, nothing sick that won’t be healed, nothing dead that won’t live again because God is making everything sad come untrue. We can’t see it now, but remember the fruit tree in winter, it looks dead, but the buds are ready to go, and come spring, blossom and fruit.” Jesus said, “Look, I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5, NLT).

I love that about our God. Not only does He forgive us, give us new life, make us new when He saves us, but even the pain of this life and the death and dying and sickness and suffering that we all experience as we walk through this life will someday be gone as we are with Him in heaven. All things will be new. Literally, all things will be new, and we can hold onto that and rejoice in it. Each year when we celebrate a new year, we can remember that someday we will celebrate new life in a completely different way and in a complete way. I hope that we can use these opportunities, of whatever celebrations we have, to encourage our children in their faith, to have hope, to look for the new life that God gives us, for being grateful and celebrating the forgiveness He offers us day by day and to thank Him that He gives us second chances. Aren’t we so fortunate and so blessed that God gives us second chances and third chances and fourth chances–that He never gives up on us. He keeps working on us and new year’s reminds us of that, that we can always start over. We’re never too far gone. If we will just repent and turn to Him.

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts, if you would like to join my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, would you please go to iTunes or Spotify and give it a review and tell people about this podcast so that more can find it? Your review–it’ll take just a minute–and it means the world to us. It helps us to be found by others and helps our audience to grow. Feel free to comment. We love to hear from you, and I respond to every comment.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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