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Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and other Midwinter Holidays with Kids

Around the world, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In countries that use lunar calendars to determine festival days (many of which are in Asia and the Middle East), this signals the beginning of the new year and the first stirrings of spring.

There are lots of ways to honor and celebrate various midwinter traditions that are delightful, educational and bring families together.


The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese Lunar New Year traditionally begins at the first new moon after January 21st. Each year is said to be represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This coming year is the Year of the Monkey.

San Francisco is host to the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside Asia and one of the few illuminated nighttime parades in the world. The parade, Feb. 20th this year, dates back to 1860 and features more than 100 groups, including extravagant lion dancers and a 200-foot-long Golden Dragon. San Francisco’s Chinatown offers numerous other free events and activities throughout the two-week New Years celebration, such as lion dance exhibits, and craft activities like making lucky red envelopes, at city libraries.

In New York City, the New York City Chinese New Year Parade and Festival takes place Feb. 14th this year, and winds through the streets of Little Italy and Chinatown. There’s also a Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 10th, with drumming, dancing, and more than 600,000 firecrackers, the noise of which is said to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Read more about the tradition of greeting the new year with noise and how to make your own noisemakers.

In Chicago? Attend the Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade in their vibrant Chinatown and experience marching bands, floats, lion dancers and a dragon dance, on Feb. 14th.

Here are some great photos of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world.

There are many crafts you can make at home to celebrate the Chinese  New Year. Try making a paper dragon, Chinese noisemakers, or Monkey paper cutouts, or baking your own fortune cookies. (If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, to see how the pros bake and fold the famous cookies.)

Here are more Chinese New Year crafts and recipes.


The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating tree fruits and nuts. For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the nature around us.

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat? Consider planting a tree or seeds, or choosing a natural area to steward by weeding or picking up trash. Take a nature walk and observe what you see, or make a homemade bird feeder, so you can help the birds at a point in winter when much of their food supply has diminished.

Here are lots more traditions, blessings and activities to celebrate the New Year of the Trees.


In the U.S., Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a well-known midwinter holiday, in which it is said that a groundhog rises from his underground burrow to predict a long or short winter, based on whether or not he produces a shadow. The holiday has its roots in Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. (The Celtic-Gaelic St. Brigid’s Day, a time of festivals, feasting and parades, which is still celebrated widely in Ireland, is another precursor to Groundhog Day. As is Imbolc, which means “in the belly”, and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would give birth in the spring.)

Pennsylvania’s German settlers believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day (causing the groundhog to see his shadow), then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold, producing “six more weeks of winter.” This site explains the science of Groundhog Day and the fact that cloudy weather is actually milder than clear, cold weather. Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1886 and featured a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil”, the same name of the groundhog that makes predictions today.

To celebrate Groundhog Day, try making hand shadow puppets, having a friend trace your shadow, or enjoying one of these shadow-themed activities or weather experiments.

Here is a lot more science, lore, activities and fun for Groundhog Day.


Japanese people celebrate Setsubun (Feb. 3rd this year), traditionally the beginning of spring, with a bean-throwing ceremony called Mame-maki. Beans are thrown indoors and then outside, as people shout, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Out with the devil! In with fortune!”), to drive away the evil spirits, a tradition that is a carry-over from mame-maki’s origins as a New Year’s ritual. Sometimes fathers dress up as the oni (devil). It’s considered good luck to eat the number of beans as your age.

You may want to do some Setsubun crafts.

Enjoy your celebration of midwinter. Hopefully it won’t feel like too long a wait until spring.

Photos: Wikimedia (Chinese New Year Parade in Melbourne, Setsubun celebration in Kobe), Susan Sachs Lipman, Creative Commons (Groundhog)

Make an Altar to Honor Ancestors for Day of the Dead

The Latin American, and especially Mexican, tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time to remember and celebrate loved ones who are no longer with us. Far from morbid, the day or days (which can encompass the widely celebrated Catholic All Saints Day  November 1st, and All Souls Day November 2nd) have a celebratory quality. In Mexico and other places, people play music, enjoy family, and make and enjoy special breads, pottery, puppets, paper cut-outs, dancing skeletons, and candy skulls. Brightly colored marigolds adorn displays, as the flowers’ scent is said to attract souls and bring them back.

While the holiday’s timing and spirit may seem to match Halloween, it’s actually different and predates it by about 1,500 years, to 3,000 years ago, when it was an approximately 40-day celebration based on two months of the ancient Aztec calendar and centering on the corn harvest in what is now August. Ancient corn festivals offered opportunities to share the harvest with the deceased.

Our modern culture is one of the few that doesn’t often recognize the role of ancestors or spirits. 2,000 years before the Aztecs, Babylonian festivals were devoted to the return of the dead. Much later, the Medieval Irish burned bonfires at Samhain (October 31 – November 1), the beginning of their winter, to entice dead spirits to visit. Dia de los Muertos offers a contemporary, colorful and meaningful way to honor those who have come before us and recognize that, while we can’t bring them back, their spirits and essences may live on with us.

Anna made an altar, or ofrenda, with her lovely 2nd grade teacher, Susan Falkenrath, to help her be more connected to a grandfather she didn’t know and remember a grandmother who had recently died. We still have the very light-hearted ofrenda in a prominent place in our house. (Traditional ones have a lot more temporary offerings on them, such as real food and flowers.) It does serve as a nice way to keep the departed close to us.

Her teacher had a cut-out form for the ofrenda‘s shape, but it’s easy enough to create your own with boxes and paper. Because ofrendas honor the lives of the deceased, Anna’s included her grandparents’ favorite foods, in clay form, their photo, and items about their work and play.

To make your own, you’ll need:

A shoebox or oblong tissue box and one or two more increasingly smaller boxes (large enough to work with your photo and frame – see below. Traditional ofrendas often have three tiers.)
Cardboard or a large flat box lid
Construction paper, wrapping paper or fabric
A photo of the deceased
Colorful tissue paper
Modeling or polymer clay
Branches or wire
Scissors or craft knife
Other items or mementoes, as desired
Paint and brushes, optional

Think about the ancestors you are honoring: What were there hobbies and interests? What was their favorite food?

Cover and wrap your boxes in construction paper, wrapping paper or fabric, so that there are no openings.

Glue the boxes, one above the other, smallest one on top.

Use the box lid or cut a rectangle of cardboard, 1-2” or more larger than the photo all around.

Glue the photo to the cardboard or lid. If desired, paint or paper the cardboard first and/or decorate the frame of the photo with drawn pictures depicting the ancestor’s hobbies, or with construction paper cut-outs of skulls.

Place the cardboard or lid behind the largest box, if large enough, and glue to secure it, so that it shows above the boxes. If the cardboard is smaller, follow these directions:

Cut 4 pieces of cardboard, 2” x 1”. Fold each in half. Glue two to the front and two to the back of the photo cardboard, to make L- shaped feet. Glue the bottom of the “L”s to the top box, so the photo stands up.

If desired, construct an arch out of paper or branches and place it around or in front of the photo, poking the ends into the top box to secure it.

Because it’s traditional to offer the deceased their favorite food, in addition to bread, fruit or candy. have fun making miniature clay food and placing it on the tiers of the altar. Some altars also include soap, so the loved ones can “freshen up” after their journeys.

Make other clay or paper decorations, as desired, perhaps representing more of the loved one’s interests, to place on any of the tiers. You may want to add real or paper flowers anywhere on the altar, or make a string of paper cut-outs (papel picado) and string them across the top of the arch or the picture.

Here are some nice examples of papel picado:


Enjoy wonderful pictures and stories of Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca from Slow Clothes.

Enjoy more ofrenda photos.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Photos: Public Domain (first two), Chuchomotas, Susan Sachs Lipman, esacademic.com



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