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Eastlake students welcome in Chinese New Year with traditional songs, tales

Apr 10, 2018 03:59PM ● Published by Julie Slama

Eastlake Elementary students perform the traditional dragon and lion dances during their Chinese New Year celebration. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

For weeks, Eastlake fourth-grader Oaklie Deputy learned the words to a Chinese love song so she and her dual immersion classmates could perform it with a dance at the school’s annual Chinese New Year celebration.

“It was fun doing it,” she said. “It’s a good way to put the language I’m learning to use.”

Eastlake’s assembly featured students from each grade showcasing their knowledge of the culture and the language, from the traditional dragon and lion dance bringing in the Year of the Dog to the first, second and third grades performing songs.

First-graders performed three numbers: “Happy New Year,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and “Where is my friend?”

“We taught them these songs to match what they are learning in the classroom,” said first-grade teacher Bei Yang. “They learned about the Chinese New Year’s traditions and symbols like the color, food, when it is. With ‘Head, Shoulders,’ they learned the body parts, and with the ‘Friend’ song, they learned where and who, which matches their vocabulary.”

Second-graders sang the Jasmine flower song and the Chinese Zodiac song before third-grade students sang a traditional new year song. 

Fifth-graders performed the “Legend of Nian,” which is about a monster who slept 365 days and woke up hungry and would eat livestock, crops and even village children. To protect themselves, villagers would put food out in hopes that the monster wouldn’t attack people. 

When that didn’t work, most villagers left, so when a beggar came to the village, he found only a woman and a man remaining and willing to give him food and shelter. She told him that the monster already killed her son and grandson, and her husband was too ill to move. The visitor told her to shake firecrackers, which would be too loud for the monster, and to hang red scrolls from her windows and doors (the color was too bright for Nian) and to hang lanterns out for the fear of fire. 

From that time on, the monster never came to the village and the saying, “one turn deserves another,” originated.

Third-grader MonsonTukuafu said he enjoyed the “Legend of Nian.”

“It’s a way for the Chinese people to celebrate and show kindness,” he said. “Now, they use red in their lanterns and decorations as a way to celebrate.”

Through learning the language in the classrooms, Monson said they celebrate the Chinese New Year with playing games, singing, passing around red envelopes to give good fortune for the coming year and learning traditional tales.

Sixth-graders brought in the ancient tale of Mulan, a girl who went in place of her frail father, unknowingly by her family, to fight for her country. Only, she dressed as a man in a time when females wore their traditional dress, and she didn’t let on a she was a female. In time, Mulan received a special award from the emperor for her outstanding courage and returned home to take her place in the family.

They also recounted the Chinese zodiac folklore where the Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. Through a message to mortal world, he directed the animals to come through the Heavenly Gate, with the message that the earlier they arrived, the better the rank they’d have, which determines today’s order of zodiac.

Third-grader Elle Svay said she appreciated learning about the Chinese zodiac.

“I hadn’t ever heard why they were in the order they are in and how the animals raced across the river to the Heavenly Gate,” she said. “I liked learning their celebrations.”

Oaklie says she and her seventh-grade brother, Asher, try to talk to native speakers outside of school.

“If we’re at an airport or Disneyland or somewhere, I usually ask them typical questions like their favorite color or what they’re doing,” she said.

Her mother, Heather, said it gives them more practice.

“Every opportunity, I encourage them to talk to people who speak Chinese,” she said. “It’s a difficult language, so I’m glad they could start when they’re younger.”

Oaklie is glad she is learning Chinese.

“I like learning it and learning about their culture,” she said. “It’s just fun.”   

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