Embracing Cultural Diversity: Celebrating and Exploring the Year of the Dragon
2024 welcomes the auspicious Year of the Dragon! In this blog, we embark on a journey to unravel the richness of Lunar New Year, a festival that transcends borders and invites educators to embrace its cultural significance.
Lunar New Year is almost here. It is a 15 day traditional festival celebrated annually in China, in countries across Asia and by the Chinese diaspora globally. As a lunar festival, the dates change each year in the Western calendar, aligning to a lunar (rather than solar or Gregorian) calendar. In 2024 the festival starts on Saturday February 10th, culminating 16 days later with Lantern Festival on February 24th, which is traditionally part of the wider Lunar New Year celebrations.
With Chinese communities and families living in all parts of the globe, it is likely that you’ll know someone celebrating this important Asian festival, perhaps in your class or school!
Beyond its roots in China, Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) is celebrated globally, known by different names such as Songkran in Thailand and Tet in Vietnam. The festival is one of the largest and more important festivals across Asia, and beyond. It is a time for families to reflect on the year ahead, engage in festive activities, and relish special cuisines. There are many similarities across different regions, but with some unique and important cultural differences.
2024—The Year of the (Wooden) Dragon
Central to Lunar New Year is the Chinese Zodiac, a fascinating blend of 12 animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig) and five elements (earth, wood, metal, fire, and water). Each year is dedicated to a different zodiac animal as well as an element and each year both the animals and the elements rotate. For example: 2024 is Year of the Wooden Dragon and in 12 years time it will be Year of the Fire Dragon.
Everyone has a zodiac animal and element that corresponds to the year they were born. If your birthday falls in January, be sure to check whether it precedes or follows the Lunar New Year, as the dates fluctuate yearly due to the lunar calendar. If you don’t know your zodiac animal and element, use this Chinese Zodiac Calculator to find out!
Unravelling Myths and Legends
The origins of the Chinese Zodiac are linked to many captivating myths and legends, including “The Great Race,” a tale that determines the sequence of zodiac animals.
Meanwhile, “The Story of Nian” tells the story of a fierce creature from Chinese mythology, and explains the roots of Lunar New Year customs, emphasizing the significance of the color red, fire, and loud noises.
Dragons—Mythical Beasts with Cultural Duality
2024 is the Year of the Dragon, which might sound frightening to some readers, but in China dragons are seen as lucky and benevolent creatures, with strong ties to the Chinese Emperor who is an important figure in Chinese history. In other cultures, dragons are portrayed as dangerous and cunning beasts, shown in both adult and children’s literature and films as evil creatures to be conquered.
The different perceptions of dragons show us how cultural constructs may view the same things differently and provide interesting ways for us to explore deeper cultural differences, always through a lens of respect and understanding.
Activities to Explore and Celebrate Lunar New Year
In the rich tapestry of global cultures, it is essential for educators to cultivate an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity. Lunar New Year is a fun festival to explore with your students, building a deeper understanding of Chinese culture, along with global awareness.
We’ve compiled these educational and fun activities for different age groups for you to do in class or share with your students to complete independently.
VR & AR as powerful learning tools for Chinese Culture
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are two exciting tools that can be used to build knowledge and understanding of Chinese Culture, in particular Lunar New Year. Our new XR game, Culture Quest: Zodiac Chase, provides students with an immersive experience to solve a series of puzzle and challenges linked to the Chinese Zodiac, while navigating The Great Wall of China. If you’re ready to dive into an immersive learning experience with your students to learn more about the Chinese culture, check it out!
As educators, embracing Lunar New Year goes beyond acknowledging diversity; it opens doors to deep cultural exploration. The Year of the Dragon invites us to explore the Chinese Zodiac, unravel myths, and appreciate the global tapestry of Lunar New Year celebrations. Students and educators alike can celebrate diversity and cultivate a deeper understanding of the world around them through this fascinating festival.
We always love seeing examples of student activities celebrating and exploring this fun festival, so feel free to share your photos with us, or tag us on all social media platforms: @MegGlobalEd.
And, whichever Chinese Zodiac animal you and your students are, we wish you a happy and healthy 2024!
Lottie Dowling is a Primary School trained educator who has worked in a number of education roles internationally for more than 20 years including state schools and international schools in London, China, and NZ. She has worked as a Drama and Literacy specialist, in ESL and EAL roles, and now specializes in Global Citizenship Education. She is currently the Manager of Going Global at Meg Languages.
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