The Irish Music Daily – All Things Irish From A Musical Point-Of-View

Irish Music Daily iconAlthough St. Patrick’s Day is a time when the world’s attention is drawn to all things Irish, there’s a resource-rich online site called The Irish Music Daily that’s dedicated to sharing and promoting Irish music year-round.  The Irish Daily shares lyrics and chords for popular Irish songs as well as news and articles about Irish musical figures both older and upcoming.  Recent posts cover popular musical sensations such as U2, Enya, Celtic Thunder and beloved Irish flutist, James Galway.  Aside from block-buster talent,  there’s also a great section called “Showcase” that spotlights amazing new talents and interpreters of Irish music from countries all over the world.

Even if you’re already a fan or devotee of Irish music, this site provides you with so much information, you’ll want to bookmark it and return often. Here are some of our favorite links from that site:

Irish Performers Choose Their Favorite Songs For St. Patrick’s Day
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/st-patricks-day

Who’s Who and Who’s New in Playing and Interpreting Irish Music Around The World
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/video-showcase

Top Irish Musicians And Instrumentalists
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/irelands-top-instrumentalists

Links and Related Resources

IRISH MUSIC DAILY – Home Page
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/

playing on bodhran at a traditional session

MYO Bodhran and Tipper tutorial: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Irish-Drum-Make-and-Play-Your-Own-Bodhran-and-Tipper-2410657

Whistle a Merry Tune – With A Tin Whistle
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/early-learning-with-music/whistle-a-merry-tune-with-a-tin-whistle/

Morris Dancing Bells For Kids
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/early-learning-with-music/easy-morris-dancing-bells-for-children/

Easy Introduction to 10 Irish Instruments
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/an-easy-introduction-to-irish-instruments/

Irish Videos on Multicultural Kids Music Vids  
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?cat=512

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Horagai – A Conch Shell Trumpet From Samurai Times

A while ago we did a post about conch shell trumpets that date back to ancient Aztec times.  While researching Asian-Pacific Instruments, we found similar shell trumpets in Tibet, Korea, the Pacific Islands and Japan.  Here’s more about the Japanese version of this unique instrument.

Although shell trumpets can be found in various locations around the world, the Japanese versions – Horagai (法螺貝) or jinkai (陣貝) are a bit unusual.  They consist, not only of the large conch shell but also of a wooden or bronze mouthpiece that allows the instrument to make a series of sounds, as opposed to only one loud blast or note.  Most closely connected with Buddhist monks such as the Yamabushi Warrior monks in Japan, each group or school would learn to play the instrument in different ways and to produce different melodies.

Historical records show that horagai was used in various Buddhist rituals that date back at least a thousand years or so.  These shell trumpets can also be seen in present day Japan in religious ceremonies such as the omizutori (water drawing), which is part of the of the Shuni-e rites at the Tōdai-ji in Nara.  When used by the Yamabushi (Ascetic warrior monks of the Shugendo sect) the instrument would both accompany the chanting of sutras or prayers as well as to signal their presence or movements throughout the mountain region where they lived.  Because the temperatures in these high mountains could easily drop below zero, it is said that the wooden or bronze mouthpiece was added so that the trumpeter’s lips would not freeze to the shell in the extreme cold.

When used in Samurai times, the jinkai, or “war shell”, would play different combinations of notes to signal troops to attack, withdraw or change battle plans.  It was sometimes used to confuse the enemy who might misread the number of troops attacking or what the various battle signals might be.  As you might guess, an experienced trumpeter; called a kai yaku (貝役), woudl have to be an adept musician and would be valued greatly by the Japanese fuedal lords or Samurai for their talents.

To learn more about different shell trumpet traditions or to hear a beginner horagai player learning the instrument, check out the links and resources below.

Links and Resources

Instruments From Ancient Mexico – The Conch Shell Trumpet
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/instruments-from-ancient-mexico-the-conch-shell-trumpet/

Wikipedia’s Horagai Page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horagai

Learning to play the Yamabushi Conch-Shell Trumpet (Horagai)
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=1466

Learn Some Basic Quechua Through Song For International Mother Language Day (IMLD)

yaw yaw girlDid you know that there is a special day earmarked for worldwide celebration and promotion of diverse languages and multiculturalism?  International Mother Language Day was created by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and is held annually on February 21st.  Made official in 2008 by the United Nations General Assembly, the chosen date marks an event in 1952 when students were shot and killed in present-day Bangladesh while demonstrating for the recognition of their national language, Bangla. Currently gathering momentum around the world, IMLD is the subject of many world-wide activities as well as a variety of great features from Multicultural Kid Bloggers whose posts can be found here at the special Facebook Page below.

Using Music To Encourage Language

Along with being a great way to celebrate world cultures, IMLD is an excellent opportunity to focus on world languages and to use music and the arts as a way to encourage diversity and multiculturalism, especially with young children. Although learning a new language can seem difficult at first, using music and games is a great way to connect with new sounds, words and phrases. In the process of singing or simple music activities or games, kids (or people of any age) begin to make sense of phrases and words and can build their competency and enjoyment of speaking another language.

Would you like to learn a bit of Quechua – the language used by the Incan Empire of South America? Here’s a little song or rhyme popular in Peru:

What Does The Song Say?

Essentially this is an “I’m gonna tell on you” song. Here’s what the words you’re hearing mean.

“Yaw”, means “Hey!”
“Puka” is the color red and a pollera or polleracha (little pollera) is a traditional skirt.

So the first phrase is
“Hey, girl in the little red skirt”.

The next verse asks “What are you doing?”, in Quechua “Imata ruwanki?”

It also talks about a corn field – and the word “sara” means corn.
The song then says “I am going to tell your mom and your dad” and you can easily hear the words “Mamayki” (your mom) and Taitayki (your dad).

Although it takes more then one song or game to learn a new language, it’s a great start and a fun way to build bridges between cultures – especially in languages like Quechua that may be in danger of being left behind or lost.

CAncioncitas Book Cover smallE-Book and CD About Quechua Culture

Want to learn more about the Quechua culture? Check out the E-book and companion CD below. And if you are a classroom or homeschooler with limited budgets, please contact us as we would be happy to get you a free copy for your use. To get a free copy, e-mail dariamusic at yahoo dot com and put “Free E-book” in the subject line.

Wishing everyone a happy International Mother Language Day!

Resources And Links

Wikipedia’s International Mother Language Day entry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Mother_Language_Day

Multicultural Kid Bloggers – IMLD Activities
https://www.facebook.com/internationalmotherlanguagecelebration

A Child’s Life In The Andes from TPT
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/A-Childs-Life-In-The-Andes-E-Book-Plus-Music-CD-639838

Cancioncitas De Los Andes – From Itunes
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cancioncitas-los-andes-little/id602798167

Bell Stones, Soapstones and Fish Pipes – Early Instruments of Indigenous California Cultures

soapstone flutes and whistlesAlthough there’s no formal written history of early indigenous cultures in the region of Southern California, a variety of resources give us a glimpse into the music and ceremonial life of these various tribes. While visiting the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, I was allowed to photograph and share a few of the beautiful music-related artifacts from their vast collection that reflect the early life of Native American tribes in this region.

Ringing Rocks or Bell Stones

Ringing Rock - side viewSimilar to Chumash culture, which originated north of the museum’s Santa Ana location, the pre-1600 AD tribes of this area also discovered, used and revered “ringing rocks” or bell stones. Pictured here (left) is a huge bell stone identified with Tongva/Agaemen(Gabrieliño/Juaneño) cultures with several man-made areas which were probably used for striking particular notes or for grinding medicinal plants. Most often, these large boulders were positioned on top of other rocks to give them more resonance and were “played” by tapping with smaller stones in different areas. Each area that is struck produces a slightly different tone.

soapstone whistlesSoapstone Instruments And A Fish “Pipe”

Also attributed to the early “Channel Island” peoples were an abundance of soapstone whistles and flutes of various shapes and sizes. Found throughout this area, soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a softer rock related to shist that has been used as a medium for carving in many cultures for thousands of years.

Displayed among the musical instruments is also this large and beautiful soapstone pipe (below) that was excavated from a location in Malibu. Shaped like a fish, fish pipeit could have been used as a sacred pipe or as a musical instrument. It’s design and decoration share many similarities with the more northern Chumash people’s ceremonial items.

Gifted artisans and basket-weavers, it may be hard to know exactly what the music and dance from this time and place were. However, these important and beautiful items can help us piece together many valuable details of these meaningful and important cultures. To learn more about Chumash music or to see how stones and rocks are used as musical instruments, check out the related posts below.

Resources And Related Links

bowers basketsBowers Museum, 2002 Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706 (714) 567-3600

Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers– Instruments From Chumash Culture

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/cocoon-rattles-bears-claws-and-bullroarers-instruments-from-chumash-culture/

Playing River Rocks As An Instrument – Hawaiian `ili`ile

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/playing-river-rocks-as-an-instrument-hawaiian-iliile/

Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers – Instruments From Chumash Culture

Ojai museumWhile visiting the foothills of Southern California, I came across a small museum with a presentation of musical instruments from the area’s indigenous Chumash culture. Several of the traditional instruments were very familiar and can be seen in most tribes across the country. Other, however, were were truly unique and beautiful.  Here are the seven musical instruments presented on display at the Ojai Valley Museum.

For more information, check out the book on Chumash culture below or visit the museum’s online site, here: http://www.ojaivalleymuseum.org/

cocoon rattleCocoon Rattle

This truly unusual rattle used for ceremonial purposes is made from the cocoon of the Ceanothus Silk Moth (Hyalophora euryalus) and each cocoon is filled with pebbles. The cocoons are then attached to short lengths of reed which are bound together with fiber.

Bear Claw Rattle

Chumash turtle and clamshell rattleThe bear claw rattle (seen at the bottom middle section of this picture) was used as part of mourning ceremonies by the Chumash. In this rattle, each claw is strung on a piece of thread or fiber and the fibers are bunched together to make the instrument. Museum notes say that bears teeth can be used in this rattle as well.

Clamshell Rattle

A sturdy clamshell is filled with small noise-makers; such as small pebbles, then mounted on a stick for this decorative rattle (lower right of display).

Shell Rattle

clam shell belt rattleIn this traditional rattle holes are drilled in each shell and they are woven together with fiber.

Double Turtle Shell Rattle

double turtle rattleTurtle shells are used across the USA as part of Native American ceremonial rattles.  Frequently mounted on a stick, turtle shells are also used when tied in bundles and attached to the legs of dancers as part of the Cherokee stomp dance. The Chumash turtle shell rattle here uses two shells mounted on a stick along with beautiful ornamentation.
Frame Drum

Chumash frame drumAlmost every Native American tribe uses some form of the frame drum as part of their music and ceremony. The 2-sided, animal skin frame drum on display here measured about 14 – 16” in diameter and was accompanied by a traditional beater.

Bullroarer

Chumash bullroarer +A bullroarer is a small piece of wood attached to a piece of string and swung around a large circle. The wooden piece is carved in such way that it creates a buzzing, droning or whirring noise when spun. You can see the Chumash bullroarer in the left half of this picture among other artifacts. It is carved on the edges  and decorated with paint and three “X”s.

To learn more about bullroarers in general, check out the post below which also includes a DIY kids bull roarer activity.
Resources

Make Your Own Bullroarer – A Kid’s Activity
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/uncategorized/outdoor-musical-play-make-your-own-bullroarer/

California’s Chumash Indians
Published by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Education Center
Available on Amazon, here: http://amzn.com/0945092008

“El Son de la Negra” – The Second National Anthem of Mexico

Mexican flagThis classic song from mariachi repertoire is so popular it is sometimes called the “second national anthem of Mexico.”  Composed by Blas Galindo in the late 1800’s, this song from Jalisco, Mexico has many versions and variations but is loved and appreciated everywhere as an important part of Mexican folk culture.

What Does The Song Mean?

Since there are numerous variations in the lyrics, it’s hard to tell for certain what the song means.  Clearly, it’s a sad song about lost or separated lovers.  Here’s one popular version of the lyrics in Spanish.

“El Son de la Negra”

Negrita de mis pesares,
hojas de papel volando.
Negrita de mis pesares,
hojas de papel volando.

A todos diles que sí
pero no les digas cuándo.
Así me dijiste a mí;
Por eso vivo penando.

¿Cuándo me traes a mi negra?
Que la quiero ver aquí
con su rebozo de seda
Que le traje de Tepic?

In the lyrics, the singer is asking about the woman that brings him sorrow.  He says that she has told everyone “yes” but will not tell him “when”.  That she has told him “yes” and because of that, he is suffering.

The last verse asks : “When will you bring my “negra”?  I would like to see her here.  In her silk shawl.  That I brought from Tepic (the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Nayarit).

Who Is “La Negra”?

The title and the use of the word “negra” in this song actually created a stir about a year ago on an English-speaking t.v. channel in the USA.  A mariachi group was asked not to play this song because they felt the title used a derogatory term for a black woman (negra).  However, most Latin American Spanish speakers recognize the words “negro/negra” as an affectionate term for a sweetheart, a phrase better translated as “my darling” or “my dear”, not as “black man or woman”.

You can read more about this controversy and see one excellent explanation/translation of the lyrics here: http://lyricstranslate.com/en/la-negra-black-woman.html#ixzz35s6oWqzd

Mariachi Music For Kids

We’re big fans of the website – KID WORLD CITIZEN that recently published an introduction to mariachi music and Mexican culture for kids. You can read more about that here:

http://kidworldcitizen.org/2014/06/19/mexican-mariachi-music/

Ballet Folklorico del Mexico Performs “El Son de la Negra”

Last but not least, here’s the Ballet Folklorico Mexico’s verison of “El Son de la Negra”.

The Ukulele – 4 Strings and Jumping Fleas!

The sound of the tiny but mighty ukulele plays a big role in the folk music and dance of Hawaii.  But, did you know that it was originally modeled after a Portuguese instrument called the machete, brought to the islands in the 1800’s?  From there is evolved into the ukelele we recognize now, with a guitar-shaped body and 4 nylon or gut strings.

An Unusual Name

How did the ukulele (or oo-koo-le-le) get it’s name?  Some people translate the name from the Hawaiian to mean “jumping flea” and say that it describes the “fidgety” movements of the musician’s hands when the instrument is being played.   Others translate it a bit differently.  One of the last Hawaiian queens, Queen Lili’uoklani, said the name stood for “the gift that came here” by combining the Hawaiian words: uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come).

A Family of Instruments

Like many stringed instruments, there are several different types of ukuleles that vary in size and tone.  Most commonly, you can find these four different types: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The instrument pictured here is a smaller-sized soprano ukulele.

Traditional Ukulele Songs

Here’s a short video that shows two ukulele players talking about how they began playing their instruments and performing a duet of a traditional Hawaiian song called “Noho Paipai” as part of a Hawaiian music festival.

Color A Ukulele

You can find a ukulele coloring page on DARIA’s world music for kids site at:

http://www.dariamusic.com

You can also find a full color uke poster plus coloring page at her TeachersPayTeachers store (.99) here:

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Ukelele-A-Stringed-Instrument-from-Hawaii-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-1095283

The Paraguayan Harp

paraguayan harp from wikiFew countries consider music so important that they actually designate a national instrument.  Not so in Paraguay, where it’s beautiful and distinctive harp and harp music are considered national treasures and are loved throughout the region and the world.

Although there are many harps found in Europe, South America and across the globe, the Paraguayan harp is distinctively light, weighing only about 8 to 10 pounds. Tuned to a diatonic scale, the Paraguayan harp can have 32, 36, 38, 40, 42 or 46 strings and stands about 4 ½ to 5 feet tall.

But why talk about a Paraguayan harp, when you can listen to one?  Here are four videos our favorite Paraguayan harp songs along with a bit of description and explanation.

400 Harps Play The Song “Pajaro Campana”

A classic of Paraguayan folk music, here you see 400 harps (yes, really 400 harps!) perform this beloved song.  What is a pajaro campana?  Literally a “bell bird”, most people agree that it’s the name for a bird heard around the capital city of Asunción whose call sounds like a bell.

This mega-concert for harps was held at the “Plaza Uruguaya” on July 15, 2012 to mark the 475th anniversary of the capital city of Asunción, Paraguay.

Pajaro Campana  (The Bell Bird) Performed By Mariano y Ernesto

Here’s a second version of the same song.  This time, you can hear two harps playing together in the form of a duet.

Harpist, Celso Duarte Plays The Song “Iguana “

Videotaped at a family concert in Carnegie Hall  Dec 11, 2012, you can hear the distinctive voice of the Paraguayan harp as well as an ensemble of folk musicians playing shekere, quijada, upright bass and even dancing on a wooden box!

Moliendo Café Performed By Nicolas Carter on Paraguyan Harp

Moliendo Café means “grinding coffee” in English. The song was written by composer, Hugo Blanco and has a beautiful and haunting melody.  Performed here as an instrumental by harpist, Nicolas Carter, lyrics to the song are below the video clip.

Moliendo Café By Hugo Blanco

Cuando la tarde languidece

Renacen las sombras

Y en su quietud los cafetales

Parecen decir

Esa triste canción de amor

De la vieja molienda

Que en el letargo de la noche

Se deja sentir.

(bis)

Una pena de amor, una tristeza

Lleva el sambo Manuel en su amargura

Pasa incansable la noche

Moliendo café.

Cuando la tarde languidece

Renacen las sombras

Y en su quietud los cafetales

Parecen decir

Esa triste canción de amor

De la vieja molienda

Que en el letargo de la noche

Se deja sentir.

Una pena de amor, una tristeza

Lleva el sambo Manuel en su amargura

Pasa incansable la noche

Moliendo café.

Cuando la tarde languidece

Renacen las sombras

Y en su quietud los cafetales

Parecen decir

Esa triste canción de amor

De la vieja molienda

Que en el letargo de la noche

Se deja sentir.

Que en el letargo de la noche

Se deja sentir.

———

Main Photo – Photo Credit By Aij (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

What Can An Erhu Do?

Erhu - Color ImageAlthough you might not recognize the name “erhu”(二胡; pinyin: èrhú, [êɻxǔ]), you would immediately know it’s distinctive sound.  One of a family of stringed, bowed instruments from China, the erhu is sometimes called a Chinese fiddle, a 2 stringed violin, a southern or spike fiddle and it’s origins date back at least a thousand years ago to when it was brought to China by the Xi people of Central Asia.

From these humble beginning, the versatile and evocative sound of the erhu has won it a major place in Chinese orchestras, as well as a starring role in modern musical ensembles  including, jazz, pop and even rock groups.

How Is The Erhu Made?

The erhu is an unusual instrument in many ways.  It consists of a small sounding box made of a hard wood, such as sandlewood, that was traditionally covered with snake or python skin.  Some musicians and orchestras; such as the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, have recently sought out more ecologically-friendly versions and developed a series of erhu and related instruments that are made from a polyester membrane instead of snakeskin.

The bow used for an erhu was originally made of a bamboo stick strung with horsehair.

Is It A Violin?

Although the sound of the erhu is similar to the Western violin in many ways, there are several striking differences.  First, the erhu has two strings and the violin has four.  Next, the erhu is played on the lap of the musician while the violin rests between the shoulder and chin of its player.  Also, on the erhu the strings are pressed but do not touch the fingerboard and the bow does not leave the strings.  On the violin, fingers touch the fretboard to create different notes and the bow will move on and off the strings while it is being played.

If you take a look at the video below from Danwei TV, you’ll be able to see many of the unique qualities of this beautiful traditional instrument from China.

If you’d like to print out a version of the erhu coloring page seen above, you can visit the links below.

Playing The Erhu

One musician comments on playing the instrument and performs a popular folk song called “Running River” on the erhu.

Resources

B+W coloring page of the erhu from DARIA’s world music for children site:

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Erhu%20BW%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

Free Coloring Pages of World Music Instruments from DARIA:

http://www.dariamusic.com/crafts.php

Color poster of erhu plus b+w coloring page from TeachersPayTeachers:http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Erhu-Chinese-Violin-Instruments-From-Around-The-World-1037355

“Gong Xi! Gong Xi!” – The Excitement of Chinese New Year

In 2014, Chinese New Year celebrations begin on January 31st and we welcome in the Year of the Horse.  We’re republished this popular post by writer and teacher, Amanda “Miss Panda” Hsiung-Blodgett, who shares her New Year experiences, memories, photos and songs with us. 

“Gong Xi!  Gong Xi!” – The Excitement of Chinese New Year

The fragrance of Mom’s special stew and the “Ten Vegetarian Delights” fills the kitchen just before Chinese New Year arrives. That’s the first memory that floods into my mind each time someone asks me about the Chinese New Year celebration. In my opinion it’s the best of all Chinese festivals and has been my favorite since I was a little girl.

Growing up with Chinese New Year
Links of sausage, strips of bacon, and cured fish hung to dry on bamboo rods (back then the equivalent of clothes lines in the West) in almost every yard. We would run around with friends from one yard to another to check out how soon these goodies would be ready to eat. The smell of all the cured meat was another one of the indicators to me that Chinese New Year was just around the corner. Vendors with all kinds of Chinese New Year decorations, such as large gold-nugget-shaped candy containers, cut-paper artwork, and spring scrolls with lucky words are everywhere in the open market and in the stores. For a small fee professional calligraphers will even write your spring scrolls for you with their big Chinese calligraphy brushes. Big and small rolls of firecrackers are being sold and traditional Chinese New Year music fills the air of the open market as you walk through the crowd.

The Fifteen Days of the Chinese New Year Celebration:

Preparations kick off – The preparations for Chinese New Year start on the 23rd day of the last month on the Chinese lunar calendar. On this day, the tradition is to send the “kitchen god” (the protector of the family and the most important of Chinese domestic gods in Chinese mythology) back to the sky to report to the Jade Emperor (the supreme ruler of all heaven and earth) about how the family has been doing the whole year. The portrait of the kitchen god is posted on the wall in the kitchen. Families might spread melted sweets on the mouth of the kitchen god’s picture so that he would go and say only sweet and good things about the family.

Out with the Old and In with the New – The next few days see a major cleaning of the house. All clutter should be removed, the house dusted from ceiling to floor and the bedding in each room thoroughly washed. “Chu jiu bu xin” (remove the old and decorate the new) is the concept behind this major clean up. We are also welcoming the new year by posting lucky, red paper spring scrolls on the front door. Phrases or words like “xin nian kaui le” (Happy New Year); “gong xi fa cai” (congratulations and prosperity) and “ fu” (good fortune) and “chun” (spring) can be been seen on doors everywhere.

The Chinese New Year’s Eve Family Feast – Chinese New Year’s eve dinner marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration. This is a family reunion feast bringing together grandparents, or even great grandparents, down to newborn babies. It is a celebration of the togetherness of the family. It is very important to have the Chinese New Year’s eve dinner with the family. People make every effort to be back in their hometown as soon as the festival holidays begin. For those who cannot make it for the dinner because of work or being overseas, parents will prepare a seat and set up everything for him or her to represent the reunion of every member of the family.

My mother always prepares ten dishes for the New Year Eve’s dinner and every dish is a special treat. Fish is a must-have dish. The word for fish in Mandarin Chinese is “yu” and it has the same sound as the Chinese word for “remaining” or “surplus.“ We never finish the fish dish because we want to save one big piece of the fish to symbolize a surplus of wealth and all things good in the new year. The Chinese New Year saying that goes with this practice is “nian nian you yu” – “every year (we) have leftover/surplus (wealth).”

Red Envelopes – Hong bao – 紅包
After the family meal, it is time to say lucky words to grandparents and parents and it is time for the Red Envelope. In my family we use the traditional Chinese style, we kneel down in front of Mom and Dad, and bow to say auspicious phrases like:
Xīn nián kuài lè     新年快樂        Happy New Year
Shēn tǐ jiàn kāng    身體健康         Good health
Wàn shì rú yì         萬事如意         May everything go as you wish
Gong xǐ fā cái         恭喜發財         Congratulations and prosperity
Then Mom and Dad give each of us a red envelope with cash in it. Instead of spending the cash right away the tradition is to put the red envelope under your pillow and so that it will keep you young and healthy. When the children are grown up and independent then it becomes their turn to give red envelopes to their parents. I remember how proud I was when I gave my parents red envelopes when I first started working.

Taboos
For the first few days of the new year, some families do not use knives or scissors in order to lessen the risk for cuts and accidents, which would signify bad luck for the year. Some families do not sweep the floor to avoid symbolically sweeping away their wealth. If something is broken like a glass or a bowl you will hear people immediately say “sui sui ping an”, which means every year is safe and peaceful.  Why?  It is a play on words, as the Chinese word for “broken” has the same sound of the word “year”. The rule of the thumb during this time is to say good and sweet things in order to bring on a good and sweet year.

Firecracker Fun
On the New Year’s Eve families stay up late to enjoy family time and catch up with the visiting brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The most exciting time of the evening for me was when we set off firecrackers. There are all kinds of firecrackers, some spin, some fly, some hop, some shoot high and some have beautiful showers of sparks with a huge explosion at the end. We play hard and stay up past midnight. The tradition of staying up late on New Year’s Eve is good luck and is said to give parents long life!  At midnight we set off the long strings of firecrackers to welcome in the new year!

The 15th day of the Chinese New Year – Lantern Festival
Lantern festival marks the completion and the end of the Chinese New Year celebration.  On this day, children carry lanterns around in the park or in the neighborhood. When I was a little girl my brother and other neighborhood boys would help me make a lantern out of a tin milk can. We used nail and hammer to poke holes on the bottom of the tin can and then placed a candle inside. An iron wire will be attached to the top to make a handle and then a wooden stick will be attached to the wire to carry the lantern. The older boys would use bamboo sticks to make torches. As soon as it got dark, you would see the torches and lanterns everywhere. Now, we don’t see torches or tin lanterns anymore. Instead, you see beautifully designed paper lanterns with battery-operated lights for children. It is always a fascinating scene when you walk in the park and see hundreds of children carrying their flashing lanterns around.

Music
Music is an important part of the Chinese New Year just like Christmas carols are an important part of that celebration in the West. We hear traditional New Year’s tunes on the radio, on TV, on the street, in the stores and in the markets. The one you will hear over and over again is the “Gong Xi, Gong Xi” song. It is a fun and easy one. Below is a short version of it for you in pinyin along with the English translation. You can listen to it here. I hope you enjoy it.

Měi tiáo dà jiē xiǎo xiàng (Every big street little alley)
Měi gè rén de zuǐ lǐ (In everyone’s mouth)
Jiàn miàn dì yī jù huà (The first sentence (we) say when (we) see each other)
Jiù shì gong xǐ gong xǐ (Must be” “Congratulations! Congratulations!”)
Gōng xǐ, gong xǐ, gong xǐ nǐ ya, (Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations to you!)
Gong xǐ, gong xǐ, gong xǐ nǐ (Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations to you!)

Celebrating away from “home”
Now I am far and away from Taiwan where I grew up. What I always do when the Chinese New Year is approaching is call my Mom and ask her what she is doing She tells me she is preparing the “Ten Vegetarian Delights” and that she has started the stew. I tell her that I can smell it already. She chuckles and replies “How is that possible?” Then my Dad takes over and tells me it indeed smells incredible and that he will mail the dish to me by international express carrier to ensure its freshness. We all end up laughing about the idea and sharing the great memories we have for the festival. This is what I love the most about the Chinese New Year – the celebration of the family!

Happy Chinese New Year!  Have a fantastic year of the snake!

About The Author – Amanda “Miss Panda” Hsiung-Blodgett (whose Chinese last name literally means “bear”) is the mother of two young bilingual children and the author of the “Let’s Learn Mandarin Chinese with Miss Panda!” audio CD, a Chinese learning series for young children. She homeschools her children in Mandarin Chinese and is a native Mandarin Chinese speaker who is passionate about teaching and learning – and having fun while doing both!  For more information about “Miss Panda” visit her at on the web at misspandachinese.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.