When Sinclair Elementary science teacher Mimi Chan was growing up in Baytown, the holidays she heard about most in school were American holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“No one ever mentioned Lunar New Year,” said Chan, who was born in Hong Kong and is Chinese. “I felt left out. When I became a teacher, I made sure my students celebrated with me and I always made it memorable. Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is the most important holiday for most Asians. It is probably the most celebrated holiday in the world.”
Chan, with the blessing of Sinclair principal Lee Mashburn, immersed her fifth-grade students in the holiday and its traditions this year.
The Lunar New Year is linked with the lunar calendar and the moon cycles. It starts on the new moon and lasts for two weeks ending in a full moon. Sinclair’s two-day celebration started Feb. 5, the first day of the New Year. As it is Chan’s first year at the school, it was Sinclair’s first celebration of the holiday.
Chan’s students had a special presentation in the cafeteria for the entire fifth-grade class. Students Cole Pham and Christian Nunez researched New Year traditions and did a PowerPoint presentation. David Berry researched the meaning of Year of Pig and performed a monologue.
Eight of Chan’s students performed the lion dance after which Mashburn, a longtime tai chi practitioner, spoke to the students about the history of martial arts and did a tai chi demonstration. He also does tai chi, a meditative form of exercise, with his teachers each Friday.
The first day’s celebration ended with the entire school lining the hallways for the New Year parade.
“The boy and girl lions, Buddhas and musicians paraded upstairs and downstairs and ended in front of the school where the dramatic climax of Principal Mashburn feeding the lion lettuce tied to red packets,” Chan said. “The lion chews and spits out the lettuce and red envelope on the floor. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion. The spitting out of leaves signifies that there will be abundance of everything in the coming year.”
Last Friday, students made dumplings filled with meat and vegetables or cream cheese for the vegetarians. The class also did pig origami, fortune cookie crafts and Chinese character writing. Chan handed out red packets with a Chinese coin to the students.
“I’m at a school where diversity is welcomed,” Chan said. “I’m making this celebration a tradition at Sinclair. The students said that they would remember this experience forever.”