So, we have never celebrated Chinese New Year before, and before last week we knew almost NOTHING about Chinese New Year. The story behind why we are celebrating Chinese New Year in the first place can be found at this page, where you can also get the instructions on how to make the red envelopes we used! But this is our Chinese New Year dream becoming reality. And I could not have been more pleased! As I told you last week we had a meeting scheduled with the manager of our local Mandarin restaurant on Friday afternoon. You will not believe the experience we had! I’ll tell you about that first, then I’ll show you our Chinese New Year Party in detail.
Learning from Oliver at the Mandarin
I called the Mandarin mid-week last week and explained that we homeschool our son, and are currently learning about Chinese New Year. I said that we would love to look around at the decorations in the restaurant and maybe even hear from someone who celebrates Chinese New Year. The manager, Oliver, said that would be fine, and we arranged a meeting. I was so excited!
We met Oliver at the Mandarin at 11 a.m. The girls and I wore red, the traditional colour of Chinese New Year, but since my son didn’t have any red clothes he just wore whatever he felt like🤷♀️! The restaurant opens for lunch at 11:30, so we had a bit of time with Oliver by ourselves to explore and learn. When we first entered, Oliver was there to greet us, and offered each child a red envelope. Inside each red envelope was a token, made to look like a Chinese coin. He explained that in China the older people give money to the younger, unmarried people. Oliver also told us that Chinese coins have holes in them because people used to tie their money onto a string as an easy way to carry it. My son then gave Oliver the red envelope that we made last week. If you want to make your own check out our post DIY Red Envelope.
Oliver showed us decorations (such as the lanterns), showed and explained to us the zodiac place mats, and taught us about the clothes they wear. He showed us his blue shirt and explained that they wear bright colours for Chinese New Year. Another tradition is to get new clothes for Chinese New Year, because they often weren’t wealthy enough to have new clothes at any other time of the year. Oliver then took us to the food! He showed us all the labels at the buffet that indicate that a dish is a traditional Chinese New Year food. Some of the foods with these special labels were dumplings, egg custard tarts and Siu Mai. Oliver gave us some zodiac place mats and fortune cookies to take home for our Chinese New Year the next day! When I was planning this excursion ahead of time I was undecided about whether we would stay for lunch, or just tea. The kids were begging to stay for lunch, and since it was lunch time, and we were having so much fun, we decided to have lunch at the Mandarin.
Lunch at the Mandarin
We began with those lovely hot cloths (the kids thought that was so cool!), then swiftly moved on to food! Our first time around the buffet we had traditional Chinese New Year good fortune foods: dumplings, long noodles and shrimp. The next time around I told the kids they could get whatever they wanted, which consisted mostly of pizza (lame), and A LOT of dessert! The whole time the servers kept filling our water glasses, clearing our extra plates, and asking how things were. One man even got my daughter replacement garlic bread and shrimp when she dropped her plate on the floor. And Oliver came and checked in on us once! The kids kept saying, “The people here are so nice!”
When our meal was finally done we were brought more hot cloths, more fortune cookies and more red envelopes! I asked if I had to go up the the front to pay, or if he would bring me the bill, but our server just shook his head and said, “No, it has been taken care of.” I was blown away. Not only had Oliver given us a private tour before hours, taught us so much, gave us so much, now our meal was given to us too! Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, as we were walking out, the host told us that they have cotton candy too, would we like some for the road? Of course would! It was the icing on the cake! Thank you, Oliver, and the Mandarin, for such an unforgettable experience! We had such a wonderful time, and learned so much!
Chinese Grocery Store:
On Saturday morning we decided to go to our local Chinese grocery store to pick up some decorations, jasmine tea and cookies. There were so many different things to look at…for instance the fresh meat trays of chickens’ feet and hearts! We ended up picking up some frozen dumplings for lunch at the suggestion of a friend we bumped into at the store.
This lunch was kind of nice because it was totally low-key – and gave the kids a first attempt at chop sticks! And man were they delicious- and so quick and easy to make!
Chinese New Year Party!!!
Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Our official Chinese New Year Party! We did some decorating in the afternoon, but I did most of it while my husband took all the kids to pick up our Chinese take-out. So, here’s the breakdown:
Once again, as I do at every party, I went through my house to find things that would fit the theme to put in a display. Luckily for me, my husband spent five weeks in China during High School and had picked up some lovely artifacts. So, in our display was:
- Decorative dish with fortune cookies
- Tea lights
- Red envelopes
- Chinese Sword
- Chinese Fan
- Tangerines with leaves in a crystal bowl
- Dragon (my son’s contribution😏)
- Hanging fan decoration that we got at the grocery store that morning
- Panda picture
Some other things that would fit are:
- Zodiac animals
- If you can think of other ideas let me know in the comments!
Hangings and Lantern:
We got these hangings and lantern at the grocery store that morning. There were no English instructions on the banners, so I fully expect someone who speaks a Chinese language to tell me that they’re upside down, or should be horizontal. But, I did my best! And they look good that way, don’t they?
After supper we all had a little cup of jasmine tea out of this set. It was so delightful- even though the kids didn’t actually like the taste of it. The book in the background was given to my husband by the family he stayed with in China.
The Table Setting:
I put a blanket on the floor of my living room so I wouldn’t get the red sauce, rice, etc. into the carpet. Then my husband and I brought up our coffee table from the basement and all our decorative pillows to sit on. This isn’t a Chinese New Year thing, but it’s an ancient Chinese thing. We read about this at Classical Chinese Furniture. We used the place mats and red envelopes Oliver had given us to decorate the table, and used chopsticks for our utensils (we don’t have enough matching chop sticks anymore because I keep turning them into Harry Potter wands 🤷♀️. That tutorial can be found here!) We also used lots of tea lights, and turned off the main lights to create an ancient Chinese mood.
As you can probably tell (or maybe not, haha!), we relied heavily on Mulan for our costumes! We watched Mulan the night before and it was inspirational! My son is Shang, and I tried to copy Mulan’s basic outfit with the long skirt and shirt under a wrap thing. Everyone else in the family wore housecoats. I gleaned a lot of information from Yuqi Jiang at Traditional Chinese Clothing.
Pin Your Zodiac Animal on the Mountain:
As I mentioned in the last post, at the beginning of our learning, we watched the Chinese New Year video by Panda Express. After we watched it I asked my kids what parts of it they wanted to incorporate into our party. My daughter said, “The man on the mountain.” She meant the part where the zodiac is explained. All the animals race to the emperor, who is on a mountain, to see who the first year, and so on, will be named after. I was a bit flummoxed by that request, but I came up with Pin Your Zodiac Animal on the Mountain. In our family everyone has a different zodiac animal, so we printed and coloured them, put tape on the back, and took turns trying to get our animal the closest to the emperor. Of course we were blindfolded and spun around in circles before attempting. If members of your family have the same zodiac animal you can either write names on the animals, colour them differently, or pick a different animal.
This was more of an activity than a game, but each child got an envelope from each parent. To receive their envelope they had to bow to us and say, “Kung Hei Fat Choy.” We give and receive envelopes with both hands. The tradition is to not open the envelope in front of the people who gave it to you, but we let them open it right away. Again, you can find the DIY Red Envelope tutorial here.
We had Chinese take-out for our main course, and then tinned mandarin slices for dessert. We also added some Chinese cookies that we got at the Chinese grocery store. Super simple. Super delicious!
- Pick up dinner and do finishing touches on the decorations
- Clear the table and clean up supper
- Pin your Zodiac Animal on the Mountain
- Hand out Red Envelopes
- Dessert and Jasmine Tea
- Kids to bed!!!
We had such a great time at our Chinese New Year Party. And we learned so much! Thanks a million to everyone who helped us out, both in person and through all the wonderful blogs and websites. If you don’t normally celebrate Chinese New Year, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you do, let me know how it went. Do you have other ideas? Let me know those in the comments too! Happy New Year!