How to celebrate the Year Of The Tiger with your kids

February 01, 2022

How to celebrate the Year Of The Tiger with your kids

The biggest party in the world is coming, and you and the kids are invited. No, we’re not talking about Valentine’s Day -- think bigger. Think massive. Think global.

The most fireworks in the world will be set off for this celebration. It will cause the biggest mass migration in human history. Kids will get gifts of money in red envelopes called “pockets”, and in parts of the world (i.e. Northern China), you’re supposed to eat nothing but dumplings for the entire holiday -- which begins on the first day of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th day. Most people just eat dumplings (or spring rolls) for the first breakfast of the New Year now.

But 20% of the world wants to reunite with their families for the whole holiday -- all 15 days of it, or more, if you count the Lantern Festival that comes just afterwards. We’re talking, of course, about what we generally call Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival -- so dubbed because the coldest days of winter are behind us now (mostly). It’s what Hemingway called “a moveable feast,” because the date of Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, not the familiar Gregorian one. And this year, it lands on Tuesday, February 1.

This is literally the biggest holiday of the year with its own traditions: traditions that include wearing red; setting off fireworks to scare off monsters; not sweeping or cleaning for the first five days of the New Year, so as not to wash away luck; not saying ‘negative’ words like “death” or “sickness”’; visiting family in a certain order (wife’s fam second, and better bring a present!).

And you remember the dragon dance you learned in grade school (possibly the only part of Chinese culture you were exposed to)? They’re popular during Chinese New Year, with displays ranging from small (two people) to enormous -- because the longer the dragon, the luckier it will be. You tell people, “Happy New Year,” or “Respectful congratulations on the new year.”  Oh: and no crying, fighting, bickering, or tears (Parents can get behind that one wholeheartedly).

Our kids deserve this holiday. We try to teach them to be global citizens, and so often that means telling them hard truths about climate change and war and famine and the plight of marginalized people. The world can seem a dark, hurting place. But there is much good there, too: much celebration, much love, much warmth. And our kids deserve that, too. So here are some ideas to help them celebrate Chinese New Year:

Explain the difference between the lunar and Gregorian calendar. Daunting? Not really. One’s based on the sun, one on the moon. Use a craft like this sun, moon, and earth paper plate model.

Show them the difference between how the moon revolves around the earth and the earth revolves around the sun, and explain how we get our calendars from them.

Now help them figure out their own lunar sign! Go to and input their birth date. There they can learn about the positive attributes of their zodiac sign, and also get predictions, based on their sign, for the New Year (the year of the Dog). But beware -- your birth year is always unlucky!

Wear RED! Red is the lucky color of the Chinese New Year, and traditionally worn (Roosters, you’re out of luck -- red is an unlucky color for you).

Eat traditional foods: even better if you learn to make them. The New York TImes has some great recipes, but shockingly, it’s Martha Stewart with the traditional dumplings and again, The New York Times with the spring rolls (traditionally eaten in the South of China).

Get yourself some pockets and give out some money (in small denominations). Traditionally, children need to kowtow, or bow with their heads touching the floor, three times before they would be given out (yep, this is where the expression kowtow comes from!). Also, see if you can get your hands on some fireworks to scare away those monsters. They can be set off on New Year’s Eve or New’s Day or really at any point during the New Year’s celebration. Check local laws and ordinances to make sure you’re not violating any laws.

Other cultures celebrate Spring Festival too! Help your kids look them up -- it doesn’t have to be more fancy than a google search, just enough to introduce them to research -- and learn something about them, too!

If you’re reeeeeeeeally into it, get your craft on. You can try something like this dragon, which needs a whopping thirty paper plates to finish, or this one, which looks complicated but is really just some boxes and paint.

How is your family going to celebrate Lunar New Year?  

New to Free to Be Kids?

We design and create babykids, and even grownup clothes with positive messages and nary a gender cliche in sight. In honor of Year of the Tiger, we've released this new design that shows all the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, compete with birth years -- so you can celebrate the Year of the Tiger and also figure out what your Chinese Zodiac sign is! And, you know, all your friends' signs too. Click the image to shop. :)

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