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Chinese New YearBookmark

Learning area: The Arts
Year level: Foundation, Year 1, Year 2
Country: China

This learning sequence explores the symbols and legends associated with Chinese New Year celebrations. Students have the opportunity to make Chinese lanterns, a Chinese dragon or lion, and perform a dance.

Key inquiry questions

  • How and why is Chinese New Year celebrated?
  • What are the symbols and stories associated with Chinese New Year?
  • Of what significance are the dragon, fireworks and the Lantern Festival in the celebrations?
  • How does Chinese New Year compare with New Year celebrations in other countries?

Orange lanterns lighting up night skyOrange lanterns are lit to celebrate the festival

Related resources

Activity 1: Celebrating Chinese New Year

In this activity students learn about Chinese New Year and explore the feeling of celebration through the illustrations of firework displays.

Key inquiry questions:

  • How and why is Chinese New Year celebrated?
  • What are the symbols and stories associated with Chinese New Year?
  1. Introduce the topic by asking students how their families celebrate New Year's Eve.
  2. Show students the images of the Chinese New Year celebrations and explain that the Chinese celebrate their New Year at the beginning of spring in February.
  3. Ask students whether they know how other families from different cultures celebrate New Year.
  4. Explain that there are Chinese people living throughout the world, including Australia and they celebrate Chinese New Year. View Lunar New Year Celebrations Around World Usher in Year of the Dragon and show the images of celebrations occurring around the world.
  5. Explain that one common element in New Year celebrations is fireworks or light shows and the Chinese believe that fireworks ward off evil spirits.
  6. Discuss with students whether they have stayed awake to watch a fireworks display, how they felt about the event, and what they saw?
  7. Ask students to look at the images of the Chinese New Year fireworks and the additional  images of fireworks.
  8. Discuss with them the colours, shapes, symmetry and directions of a fireworks display. Explain that the spray of colour comes from a central point and lines of colour radiate out from this.
  9. Explain that they will draw four different firework displays and colour them in their favourite colours, either in a singular colour or in a variety of colours.
  10. Ask them to select the display they like the best and share with the student next to them why they made that decision. Their partner can then select the one they like the best and explain why they like it.
  11. Explain that they will now use one of their displays to create a firework display on cardboard.
  12. Provide students with a piece of black cardboard to:
    • dribble or splatter paint in a controlled directional way
    • overlap different sprays of fireworks but must remember to allow each to dry before applying another
    • cut-out parts of the spray to allow light to shine into their design
    • add pieces of coloured cellophane, by gluing it to the back of the card.
  13. Display students' work on a window where the cut-out areas will be seen.

About Chinese New Year celebrations

In Australia and many other countries, 1 January starts the year. It is often a public holiday and most work places are closed for at least part of the day.

New Year parties start on 31 December (New Year's Eve). Food and drink is shared, and crowds gather to celebrate. At midnight, when the old year ends, people make a lot of noise with whistles and rattles, car horns and church bells. The noise is meant to scare away evil spirits and bad luck. Some cities have elaborate firework displays.

This is also a time for new starts and the making of New Year's resolutions or promises to ourselves to be better and change our bad ways.

Chinese New Year

In China and in many other countries of the world, including Australia, Chinese New Year is celebrated between the end of January and mid-February. Chinese New Year is a very special time to celebrate a new beginning and good fortune. It occurs at the beginning of spring and is also known as the 'Spring Festival'.


Preparations are made for special ceremonies to thank the gods, particularly the Kitchen god as well as honouring the ancestors. Malt candy, wine, special money paper and sometimes fodder are offered to the Kitchen god to provide a good report on the family to the other gods.

The house is cleaned and a new image of the kitchen god is placed above the stove.

At midnight on New Year's Eve everyone waits up and exchanges greetings when the new year begins.

Red packets decorated with gold, good-luck characters  with money enclosed  are given as gifts to children.

Red is the colour of happiness and good luck and people hang red scrolls with New Year wishes written on them to decorate their houses and businesses. Fireworks are set off night and day to ward off evil spirits.

Activity 2: The lion or dragon dance

In this activity, students will:

  • learn about the symbols of Chinese New Year particularly the role played by the lion or dragon dance
  • design their own dragon head
  • create their own dance movements.

Key inquiry questions:

  • What part does the lion or dragon dance play during Chinese New Year celebrations?
  • What cultural elements affect the design of the lion or dragon?

About the lion or dragon dance

  1. Explain to students that they are going to learn more about the lion or dragon dance and the lanterns.
  2. Show students the images of the lion and dragon dance. The news items  Lunar Year Celebrations Begin in China explores New Year celebrations in China during the Year of the Rabbit. 
  3. Discuss the ways that the Chinese celebrate their New Year.
  4. Show students the clip of the  Brisbane Liondance performed in 2013.
  5. Ask for students' responses to the following questions:
    • What animal is depicted in the dance?
    • How many people/dancers are needed to help the animal move and dance?
    • What else is happening around the lion during the dance?
    • Why do you think a lion is used for the dance? Hint: the lion is an important Chinese symbol of power, majesty and courage, and is capable of warding off evil spirits.
    • Why is there so much noise and sometimes fireworks accompanying the dance?
  6. Explain that the Chinese have lived and worked in Australia since the discovery of gold in the 1800s and we can learn about their customs using information from the past.
  7. Show them the film clip from My Place for teachers,  The Chinese dragon, and discuss what happens during the dragon dance. Ask students whether it is the same as dragon dances performed today? Note you will need to login to Scootle to access this film clip.

Making a dragon or lion

  1. Show Google images of  Chinese New Year, particularly those of the lion/dragon dance. Ask students to look at the images of the different designs for the lion/dragon and identify the colours, shapes and patterns used to construct and decorate the design.
  2. Remind students that certain colours such as red, gold, green, symbolise good luck and good fortune. Ask them to think about their favourite colours and those that bring them luck. For example, blue may represent a calm person, pink an energetic person or green for someone who loves playing outdoors.
  3. Break students into groups of three. Give each group a cardboard box that would cover a head, painting equipment, coloured papers and other materials of varying shapes, scissors, glue and large pieces of material or scarfs.
  4. Explain that they will create a dragon's head out of a cardboard box by cutting out eyes and attaching a long tongue using paper or material. Remind them that the face can be a friendly or a scary image and that the colours they use to decorate the head should be symbolic to them.
  5. Ask them to select papers of different coloured shapes and materials to decorate the head. Remind them to give the dragon a scaly surface.
  6. Once completed, ask them to attach the piece of material to back of the cardboard box so that when they wear it, the material will appear to be part of the dragon's body.
  7. Ask each group to create a dragon dance. Explain that one person will be the head and the rest will be the body. Remind them that they will have to plan their movements so that they move in unison. Ask them to think about whether they want their movements to symbolise a frightening dragon or a friendly dragon.
  8. Once each dragon has performed their dance, create a class dragon dance.
  9. Complete the activity by discussing as a group how they felt working together as a dragon.

Activity 3: The Lantern Festival

In this activity students will:

  • learn about the origins of the Lantern Festival and the cultural significance of the lanterns and family
  • create lanterns that reflect their family symbols.

Key inquiry questions:

  • What is the purpose of the Lantern Festival?
  • What are the cultural elements to be taken into consideration when making a Chinese New Year lantern?

About the Lantern Festival

  1. Show students the image of the lanterns.
  2. Ask students to share with the rest of the class what they wonder about the Lantern Festival and discuss how they could find out the answers.
  3. Explain when the Lantern Festival occurs and why it is part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
  4. Re-tell the legend using the information about the Lantern Festival and explain why lanterns are lit during the festivities.
  5. Show students the film clip  My Place - Episode 14: 1878: Henry, The Chinese dragon once again and ask them why the characters, Henry and Franklin, launched the large lanterns into the sky. Note you will have to login to Scootle to access this film clip.
  6. Discuss how the lantern is designed and decorated, and how it flies.

Making a Chinese New Year lantern

  1. Explain to students that they are going to design and make either a paper lantern. They will not be making Sky lanterns but will hang their lanterns from a tree or from the ceiling in the classroom.
  2. Give students the materials they will need to construct their lantern:
    • a rectangle of thin card paper or a paper bag
    • scissors
    • stapler or glue
    • string or wire
    • drawing/painting equipment.
  3. Ask students to draw the shape of their lanterns first to show what it may look like at the end of the process.
  4. Students are asked to develop ideas for decorating the surface. Remind students that this lantern should represent them and their families.
  5. Students develop symbols to represent their families: a word, name, images, drawing of their family members.
  6. Students then apply these to the cardboard or paper bag before they construct it.
  7. Chinese people write messages of good will and what they want for the New Year on their red lanterns. Students create and write words to show what they want for the future, for example, happiness, fun or more play time.
  8. Students construct their lanterns, hang them on a tree and share the messages they have written and the symbols they have used to represent their families.

Activity 4: Reflection

Ask the class to consider what they have learnt about Chinese New Year and what they would still like to know. 

1. Create a visual chart with the two headings for students to write notes from their discussion.

 What we know ...  What we wonder ...


2. Discuss how they could find the answers to their questions and fill in the missing information as they access it.

In this learning sequence, students become familiar with, and have experience of, a diversity of arts practices and viewpoints, and become confident in using visual language. Students learn about different visual worlds through exploring the symbols and customs of Chinese New Year. They create and construct images and objects that reflect their personal expression.

Activity 1: Celebrating Chinese New Year

In this activity, students compare New Year celebrations in Australia and other countries. They consider the preparations, customs and symbols of New Year. They learn about Chinese New Year and explore the celebration through the illustrations of firework displays.

Activity 2: The lion or dragon dance

Introduce students to the lion or dragon, the dance movement, fireworks and other symbols. Show students the images of the dragon's design and ask them to make observations including colours and shapes.

Talk with students about the symbolism of the dance and what it represents for Chinese Taoist culture. Tell them about the customs and traditions of the festival. Particularly discuss the symbolism of the colours of red, green and gold.

Ask students to design their own dragon head. Assist them to construct their dragon's face.

Have each group of students wear their lion-dragon, create their own dance and finish with a collaborative dance. It is important to discuss with each group how they will collaborate with each other to move as one.

Activity 3: The Lantern Festival

Read the story about the origins of the Lantern Festival so that students recognise the significance of the celebrations. Talk about the story and what it means. Discuss the cultural significance of the lanterns and family. Students' lanterns should reflect their family symbols. It is important that all students respect the family symbolism of others.

Instructions for making a Sky lantern can be found at  Wired How To Wiki.

Activity 4: Reflection

In this activity students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, and explore what they have still to learn.

Useful websites

Instructions have been provided in activities 2 and 3 for making a lion or dragon head and Chinese lantern. You may wish to adapt them to include instructions found in the following websites:

It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

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