Each winter, ennui sets in as I lazily spend my nights by the fire in something resembling a yogic child’s pose. Apathy tells my half-made scarf that it’s denied the possibility of knowing its fringe. My sketchbook lays idly by with half drawn ideas of a tiny house. I’d rather do nothing. The cold outside manages to make its way inside of me, freezing nerve endings and brain cells into a winter coma.
Then December is washed away in tubs of forgotten Christmas cookies and the new year is ushered in with overzealous intentions of juicing and detox diets. Suddenly my house needs a good scrub-down. I sweep and sweep, which seems arbitrary, until I wise up to the notion that I’m subconsciously “sweeping away the old” in anticipation of the new year. And I don’t mean our Gregorian calendar New Year. I mean the Lunar New Year.
The days preceding the Chinese New Year are steeped in tradition. The celebration runs from New Year’s Day to the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Traditionally, families thoroughly clean their house before the new year in order to sweep away ill-fortune and make way for incoming luck. There’s a popular Cantonese saying:
Crafts are a traditional way to celebrate the new year. Take for instance paper cuts and door couplets. Although I didn’t hang our couplets this year, I do hang a lantern each year at the corner of our property to welcome guests with the Fù symbol, which means “fortune.” If you saw my post from last year, you know I made red lanterns for our entrance. They look festive at night with candles lit inside!
This year I really wanted to incorporate the idea of Spring into our celebration since the new year is also known as “Spring Festival.”
Coloring pages, Chinese fortune sticks, hanging dragons and flags all helped make our home festive. It’s fun to find ideas on Pinterest (you can follow my CNY board here) and look in places like World Market/Cost Plus, local Asian markets, Oriental Trading Company on-line and hobby stores for inspiration!
This year I was inspired by this awesome photo on Pinterest for making paper Himmeli. I totally fell in love with these and when I followed the link to the creators at THUSS + FARRELL, I realized I’ve totally drooled over their paper flower book before (check it out here: Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Flowers to Craft by Hand). All this to say, these people obviously know what’s up when it comes to cool, unique and tasteful crafts! You can find a complete list of instructions on this website (also super-cool!) for these himmeli.
All you need are paper straws, string/twine, paper fans and any other little funky decorations you want (+ a little patience).
I chose to go with the festive and traditional red, mixed with aqua and gold. I’d never heard of himmeli (a hanging mobile decoration traditionally made from straw). In Finland, they’re a Christmas decoration, but are also hung over the table to bring luck for the harvest of the following year. You can see more traditional himmeli here from Finish artist Eija Koski.
I also love to decorate my skylights. It just seems like the right thing to do!
You should always have a spool of fishing line handy for hanging decorations!
Each year I plan a craft for everyone at the party. Friends have the option if they’d like to participate. This year I chose a simple “decorate a plate like this and we’ll string them together to make a giant dragon” craft. The left photo shows the type of plate each person should make, and the right photo is an example of what the dragon will look like when finished:
Because we have such creative friends, this plan didn’t exactly work out how I was planning! Check out all the different plates (and a few coloring pages) that were made!
I may have to do something different with these. I’d hate to stack them on top of each other for a dragon body!
I love seeing everyone get their hands dirty and their minds free in the craft room!
Other friends found creativity outside in our shed, where the giant Jenga game happened:
A few years ago I started the tradition of giving out party favors to those who had the animal zodiac of the year. For instance, 2017 is the year of the Rooster. So anyone who attended the party who is a Rooster went home with a small gift. I like to shop for teas and funky foods at our local Asian market.
On the fifteenth day of the new year, families walk their streets carrying lighted lanterns, eat rice dumplings and place candles outside their home to “guide wayward spirits home.” I was using outdoor candles as an excuse to create ambiance, and sky lanterns because…well, they’re just cool! We ended the night around the fire pit and watched as some party attendees lit lanterns into the new year sky!
GONG HEE FOT CHOY!!!
We’ve tried different brands of sky lanterns over the years, and have found that these work well. Don’t buy the super cheap ones because you will be disappointed!