Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Diane Flynn Keith has homeschooled her sons for 14 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a homeschool advocate, writer, and speaker. Diane is the editor of Homefires~The Journal of Homeschooling Online. Her book titled Carschooling® was recently published by Prima Publishing (a division of Random House).

Spring Festivals and Celebrations

By Diane Flynn Keith,
Editor of Homefires, author of Carschooling

(The following information was prepared with the help of the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and the book, Fun With Chinese Festivals by Tan Huay Peng.)

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

Sun Neen Fy Lok! Gung Hay Fat Choy! These cheerful greetings mean "Happy New Year!" and "Wishing You Prosperity!" The Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important festival of the Chinese calendar. It is a time of renewed hopes for a happy and prosperous new year. The New Year celebration is lavish with good reason — it invokes the God of Prosperity to usher in wealth and happiness with the new year.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "Shame fades in the morning, but debts remain from day to day." Chinese custom calls for all debts to be paid off before the old year ends — to avoid shame and misfortune. Custom also requires a clean house — sweeping away bad luck and sweeping in good fortune. Some of the other traditions associated with Chinese New Year are as follows:

  • A special red envelope called hong bao, with a gift of crisp dollar bills inside. The amount should always be an even number for good luck!
  • The color red is everywhere - it represents happiness. Gold represents prosperity.
  • Flowering red quince or azaleas represent happiness; oranges and tangerines represent the gold of wealth.
  • "Sun Neen Go" or "Nian Gao" is the traditional Chinese New Year cake. Made of rice flour and brown sugar, it is sweet, sticky and round in shape. It is believed that whoever eats Nian Gao will have a better life or achieve a higher position in the new year. Its stickiness suggests the glue that holds families and friendships together, and its sweet flavor promises a sweet life. This cake can be found seasonally at Chinese bakeries and grocery stores.
  • The Chinese celebrate two birthdays. Ages are determined by the Lunar year - and a baby is considered to be one year old on the day it is born. Ancient belief was that humans were born on the 7th day of the lunar year. So the 7th day of the New Year is everyone's birthday! It is customary to eat raw lettuce and raw fish (especially carp) on this day. The Chinese word for "life" is also the word for "raw" or "fresh". It is a symbolic gesture to eat raw/fresh food to ensure a long life.
  • Fire Crackers are plentiful in the New Year celebrations. Their noise not only scares away evil spirits, but it represents the joyful sound of life.
  • The Lion Dance, often seen in parades, had religious beginnings. The lion was the guardian of Buddhism, and the dance was used to expel evil.
  • Chinese New Year culminates with the Lantern Festival, the first full moon of the New Year. The ceremony ushered in warmth and light and the Spring season, after Winter's darkness and cold. Lanterns are lit for every member of the family including dead ancestors. The light welcomes the spirits of the dead to the family festivities and serves as a guide back to the spirit world. (If families wanted more children - they would hang extra lanterns!)
  • Another aspect of the Chinese New Year is the Chinese Zodiac which consists of a 12 year cycle. Each year is named after an animal. Chinese lore has it that Buddha once summoned all living creatures to come before him but only twelve obeyed. To reward their loyalty he named a year after each one in the order of its arrival. First came the Rat, then the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar. The Chinese imparted distinct qualities to each animal - and it influences all people born during the year of that particular animal sign. Just for the fun of it check out your Chinese Zodiac Sign below!

Chinese Zodiac:

  • Rat — 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 and 2020
    You are ambitious, honest, and prone to spend freely. Most compatible with Dragons and Monkeys. Least compatible with Horses.
  • Ox — 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 and 2021
    Bright, patient, and inspiring to others. You can be happy by yourself, yet make an outstanding parent. Marry a Snake or Cock. Sheep bring trouble.
  • Tiger — 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 and 2022
    Tiger people are aggressive, courageous, candid and sensitive. Look to the Horse and Dog for happiness. Beware the Monkey.
  • Rabbit — 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011 and 2023
    Luckiest of all signs, you are also talented and articulate. Affectionate, yet shy, you seek peace throughout your life. Marry a Sheep or Boar. Your opposite is the Cock.
  • Dragon — 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012 and 2024
    You are eccentric and your life complex. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health. marry a Monkey or Rat late in life. Avoid the Dog.
  • Snake — 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013 and 2025
    Wise and intense with a tendency towards physical beauty. Vain and high tempered. The Boar is you enemy. The Cock or Ox are your best signs.
  • Horse — 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014 and 2026
    Popular and attractive to the opposite sex. You are often ostentatious and impatient. You need people. Marry a Tiger or Dog early, but never a Rat.
  • Sheep — 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015 and 2027
    Elegant and creative, you are timid and prefer anonymity. You are most compatible with Boars and Rabbits but never the Ox.
  • Monkey — 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016 and 2028
    You are very intelligent and are able to influence people. An enthusiastic achiever, you are easily discouraged and confused. Avoid Tigers. Seek a Dragon or a Rat.
  • Rooster — 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 and 2029
    A pioneer in spirit, you are devoted to work and quest after knowledge. You are selfish and eccentric. Rabbits are trouble. Snakes and Oxen are fine.
  • Dog — 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018 and 2030
    Loyal and honest you work well with others. Generous yet stubborn and often selfish. Look to the Horse or Tiger. Watch out for Dragons.
  • Boar — 1947, 1959, 1971, 1883, 1995, 2007, 2019 and 2031
    Noble and chivalrous. Your friends will be lifelong. Avoid other Boars. Marry a Rabbit or a Sheep.

Valentine's Day - February 14th

Valentine's Day

This festival is celebrated in the United States, Canada and Europe. There are many explanations as to how the custom of sending love notes and gifts of affection began on February 14th. One legend has it that a Christian martyr by the name of Valentine fell in love with the sympathetic daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed on February 14th, he professed his love to her in a farewell letter and signed it, "Your Valentine."

This incident coincided with the Roman festival called Lupercalia on February 15th - where young men and women were paired together through a game - and became lovers for the day or the year. The church tried to change this pagan custom by assigning a saint's name to the young people through the game. The young people were supposed to imitate the virtues of their assigned saint. Well, the theme of love and passion was more popular than that of virtue - and the church's game bombed. Recognizing the futility of changing the custom, the festival was simply adopted as the feast day of Saint Valentine and virtuous love. Over the centuries civilized courtship customs replaced the mating ritual. By the 17th century it had become customary to send handmade valentines and gifts to court one's sweetheart on Valentine's Day.

Don't miss Homefires' free "Valentine's Day Curriculum" with Valentine-themed, cross-curricular learning activities the whole family will enjoy!

St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day - March 17th

"Erin Go Braugh!" means "Ireland Forever!" On St. Patrick's Day Roman Catholics in Ireland and the U.S.A. celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. It is said that he was kidnapped by pirates in his native Wales and sold into slavery in Ireland. While in servitude he found his faith. After gaining his freedom he vowed to bring Catholicism to all of Ireland, and used the shamrock to explain the religious concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons in one God).

He is credited with driving all snakes out of Ireland. St. Patrick's Day has become a day for celebrating Irish heritage and lore. Don't forget the wee folk in your celebrations. Leprechauns enjoy playing tricks on people. Your children will love finding evidence of elfin handiwork: rearranged furniture, shoes and pockets filled with confetti-like leprechaun dust, and foil-wrapped chocolate "gold coins" hidden under their pillows. Wrap up your celebration with a family screening of Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" (starring a very young, singing, Sean Connery!).

Seasonal Activity: Chinese Fortune Cookies, Valentine Cookie Love Notes, or St. Patrick's Day Irish Wisdom Cookies??? You decide...


  • 1 box of Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Cookies - you know, the feather-light wafer cookies that have been rolled into a hollow log shape.
  • Red satin ribbon, ¼" wide for Chinese Fortune Cookies and Valentine Cookie Love Notes.
  • Green satin ribbon, ¼" wide for St. Patrick's Day
  • Strips of paper (cut 2 ½" x 1 ½" approx.)
  • Pen, scissors
  • Book of Quotations or Proverbs from library


Select some short quotations that you especially like. Write the quotations on the paper strips. Print must be tiny but legible. You could print the fortunes/love notes out on a computer or type them first, and then cut them up into strips that will fit in the cookies. Roll the paper strips very tightly and tuck one inside of each cookie. Tie each cookie with a red or green ribbon. Voila! Instant fortune cookies and valentines!

You'll enjoy Homefires's free St. Patrick's Day learning activites, "Rainbows, Shamrocks and Leprechauns."

Check out these fun St. Patrick's Day activities for young children and their families.

Don't miss this "Potato Curriculum" for fun ideas on how to learn every subject with potatoes!

Every true friend is a glimpse of God.
~ Lucy Larcom