Lunar New Year: Familiar Traditions, New Experiences

By Sarah Cunningham '21 & Bessie Yang '21 | February 25, 2021

At Rocky Hill Country Day School, we cultivate and celebrate many different cultures and holidays. One celebration we embrace is the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, that is celebrated in China and many other Asian countries.  It is also known as the Chinese New Year in America, where the tradition was continued by Chinatown communities across the country. 

The Lunar New Year is an annual celebration that marks the beginning of the lunar calendar.  Each year is represented by a different animal, which are known as the Chinese Zodiacs. There are 12 animals that represent the zodiac in total, with this year being the Ox.  In Chinese culture, this day is honored by families who gather together to celebrate over big dinners.  It is also common to attend festivals and parades, dance and music performances, and of course eat lots of dumplings!  This custom celebrates saying goodbye to the old year while bringing good luck and prosperity into the new year. 

One of the great things about the globally-minded community at Rocky Hill Country Day is that students are able to embrace cultures from all around the world.  One example of this is our Mandarin class’ tradition of hosting our very own Lunar New Year celebration.  Traditionally, International and Upper School Mandarin students would come together to create performances for an all-school assembly.  However, in the past two years, the heads of the Lunar New Year Committee, Bessie Yang ‘21, Sarah Cunningham ‘21, Mia Zheng ‘22, and Lauren Zheng ’24 decided to expand the event into a multi-day, school-wide event that was designed to immerse students of all ages into the culture and traditions of the Lunar New Year.

We wanted to create fun activities and mini replicas of what is traditionally represented in China.  For example, Lower schoolers were able to engage in activities such as making lanterns, fans, and mini-kites. Middle schoolers got to enjoy a scavenger hunt, minigames, and a ping-pong tournament. While Upper schoolers took part in calligraphy, badminton, and more. We also took over the cafeteria!  We designed a menu that featured foods that were typically served in China but changed slightly to fit the American palate.  We received a lot of great feedback and felt proud to be able to immerse the community into such a vibrant and rich culture.

This year, however, posed a new challenge.  With social-distancing restrictions in place, we were not able to host an all-school assembly or provide all of the same activities from the year before.  Since we didn’t want to completely abandon the celebration, we knew we needed to think in new and creative ways to make it happen.  So, after months of planning and working with division heads and the committee’s Mandarin teacher and mentor, Ming Shen, we came up with a new strategy to host a celebration that would allow people to maintain effective distancing while still having a great time.

For example, we created kits and projects for each division to work on so that students of all grades and ages could take part within their stable groups.  Since we couldn’t go to the classrooms ourselves to provide in-person instructions, we created a YouTube channel called Lunar New Year 21 that hosted step-by-step tutorials for each of the projects.  With the help of teachers, students were able to make:

  • Paper Lanterns – Lanterns are an integral part of culture in China. They can be seen in the home, parks, and festivals. We wanted to bring this to our community, so students were able to make paper lanterns similar to what they’d find in China. 
  • Noise Spinning Drums – Drums are an important part in Chinese celebrations, including weddings, festivals, and holidays. Little spinning drums are given to kids in celebration. We made a simulation of these drums for kids to make using a paper plate, ribbon, beads, and a popsicle stick.
  • Paper Fans – Fans have always been a central component of Chinese culture. They date back to ancient times with the original material being made out of bamboo, wood, or paper. They would also write various characters on them too. We made small replicas of these fans using construction paper and popsicle sticks and students could write or decorate whatever they wanted.
  • Cherry Blossom Paintings – Cherry blossom trees and plum trees are popular sights in China and across Asia. We wanted students to make paintings of the cherry blossoms using a template, paint, and any material they wanted.
  • Family Trees – Family and community are a stable part of Chinese culture with the continuous promotion of family life. We wanted students to share their family life and explore what family means to them.

Though coordinating a celebration of this size while maintaining everyone’s safety was challenging, once we saw the pictures of students having a wonderful time and heard the stories of teachers who were so grateful for all our efforts, we knew it was well worth it.  During a year when social distancing and virtual learning have become the norm, it’s nice to know that we were able to bring a little joy to others.


Sarah Cunningham

Rocky Hill Country Day, Class of 2021

Sarah Cunningham is a senior at Rocky Hill Country Day School whose accomplishments include working as one of the heads of the Lunar New Year Committee and the International Newsletter Club.  She is a Mandarin 4 student who was honored with an award from the National Chinese Honors Society and plans to continue her pursuit of Chinese language and culture into college and beyond.

Bessie Yang

Rocky Hill Country Day, Class of 2021

Bessie Yang is a senior at Rocky Hill Country Day School whose accomplishments include being captain of the RHCD math and robotics teams as well as one of the heads of the Lunar New Year Committee and the International Newsletter Club.  She also served on the Technology & UX committee of Rocky Hill’s 2020 Hackathon (Hack for Global Good).


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Rocky Hill Country Day School

530 Ives Road
East Greenwich, RI 02818

Phone: 401.884.9070
Fax: 401.885.4985