Feb 14

Chinese Lantern Festival

Every year, on February 11th, the Chinese Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year period with a beautiful celebration of lights. Symbolically, it is the first full moon of the Chinese calendar, which symbolizes two things: the reunion of family and the beginning of Spring.

This 2,000 year old tradition is a unifying force among those who participate, though traditions differ regionally. The most popular form of celebrating, however, is lighting and releasing lanterns with friends and family. It has become increasingly popular in the United States, which hosts Lantern festivals nationwide to celebrate.

[Photos © beijingholiday.com & historicphiladelphia.com]

How can I celebrate?

The Chinese Lantern Festival is a beautiful celebration of lights and more traditional elements, like flowers and dragons lining the streets with music and lion dances. But, aside from this, there are other fun activities that are constant in the festivals that you can do from home!

Guessing Lantern Riddles

In modern times people prepare the riddles and see if the children can solve it; if they know the answer the child writes the answer on the lantern. If you get the answer right, you win a prize! Also, children can write their own wish on a lantern and then release the lantern so it floats to the sky with their wish!

Here is a link for you to create your own paper lanterns, so try writing out riddles and seeing if your child can guess the answer!

Preparing Tangyuan

Lastly, preparing tangyuan is a classic element of the Chinese Lantern Festival. These are round, solid dumplings usually served in a sweet soup and are widely prepared throughout the festival. The round shape symbolizes unity and togetherness, both in family and in prosperity of the new year. To learn how to make your own tangyuan, see this recipe!

Releasing Lanterns

Of course, the most trademark tradition of the festival is releasing the lanterns into the sky in a show of optimism for the new year. No lantern is the same -- they come in shapes like dragons, or fish, or other animals, along with the traditional globes. Children often illuminate the streets and sidewalks with smaller, hand-held lanterns.

This year, there are large celebrations in New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Columbus, OH, and Fairfax, VA -- but even if you can’t make it, we highly recommend making your own paper lanterns and preparing tangyuan for your family.

Happy New Year!

Feb 01

Día de la Candelaria or "Candlemas"

On February 2nd, Mexico will celebrate la Día de la Candelaria, sometimes known as “Candlemas.” This religious and family holiday is a month-long celebration, filled with parades, religious blessings, and of course, feasting on traditional tamales throughout.

[Photos © Manzanillo.com, garuyo.com]

In fact, the celebrations begin exactly on January 6th, Three Kings Day. Throughout Latin America, it is customary to prepare and eat Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread with a small figurine of a baby (to represent Christ) hidden inside. Whoever finds the figurine hosts the Candlemas feast -- and makes all the tamales, a traditional Mesoamerican dish, for their family!

But, Día de la Candelaria isn’t only about food -- it’s a religious celebration to commemorate the rise of Jesus Christ, since January 2nd represents the day Jesus was presented in Church, exactly 40 days after he was born. At that time, Mary presented Jesus with an abundance of candles (“candelas”) to God.

During this period, it is customary to dress a figurine of Baby Jesus and present him to the Church, just as Mary and Joseph had. Traditionally, the Baby Jesus is dress in white to represent purity and divinity. Baby Jesus, along with candles, are brought to the Church to pay homage to the recognition of Jesus Christ -- followed by the “tamalada” feast. This includes tamales and the sweet traditional drinks, atole de pinole and champurrado (thick hot chocolate).

So, if you and your family want to celebrate Día de la Candelaria this February (religiously or not), try hosting your own tamalade! Here, you can find recipes for traditional tamales, atole de pinole, and champurrado.

[Photos © saltaandwind.com]

Make sure to send pictures to our Facebook page -- we can’t wait to see what you try!

Feliz Día de la Candelaria!

Dec 19

Winter Solstice Festival (DongZhi)

The Winter Solstice Festival, or DongZhi Festival, is finally approaching! From December 21st through the 23rd, one of China’s most popular celebrations will take place. Widely regarded as a family-oriented time of year, the Winter Solstice Festival is a time to spend time with loved ones, eat traditional foods, and celebrate family unity.

If you have never celebrated the Winter Solstice Festival, we encourage you to do so by following fun (and easy!) traditions this December.

1. Stock up on dumplings

In Northern China, it is customary to eat dumplings during the Winter Solstice. These include a wide variety, ranging from soup dumplings to wontons. To learn more about recipes, read our blog about traditional Chinese cuisine.

2. Prepare TangYuan with your family

In Southern China, however, it is customary to prepare TangYuan, glutinous rice flour balls. They are often colorful and placed in a savory broth. In fact, preparing and eating TangYuan is a symbolization for reunion. For the recipe, visit Instructables, Tangyuan (Glutinous rice dumplings in sweet soup)»

Dec 12

Latin Foods to Make During the Holidays

Last month, we gave our top three Chinese dishes to include in your Thanksgiving feast. This December, we encourage you to add something from Latin America to your holiday dinner!

#1  Buñuelos

Since this is a widespread traditional treat, each country will have a different version of it. Buñuelos are fried balls of dough, sometimes with cheese in the center. When made correctly, they’re flaky, crispy, and absolutely delicious! For the recipe for Colombian buñuelos, visit:
Buñuelos Colombianos on My Colombian Recipes»

#2  Lechon Asado

Instead of ham or turkey this Christmas Eve, try out a Lechon Asado. Lechon, or roasted pork, is a staple for Latino households everywhere. The most famous modification of the Lechon is from Cuba, which includes cumin and oregano. To truly compliment the lechon, we recommend making tostones (fried plantations) and congri (rice and black beans mixed together).

For easy to follow instructions, visit: Cuban Lechon Asado on Traeger Grills Recipes»

#3  Tres Leches

You’ve heard of flan, but why not try something different this holiday season? Tres Leches Cake is a tried and true favorite in Latin America, from Chile all the way to Mexico. It’s a sponge cake that has been soaked in three types of milk: condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream.

For more information,see this recipe: Tres Leches on AllRecipes.com»

There you have it, those are the most classic holiday dishes in Latin America from appetizer to dessert! To learn more about traditional Chinese cuisine, click here.

Buena suerte!

Nov 08

Chinese Foods To Try For Thanksgiving

Now that Thanksgiving is approaching, you might be looking for your new lineup. You have the classic turkey, potatoes, and stuffing, but why not try something new?

Here, we’ve compiled a list of our Top 3 delicious Chinese foods to try out this month!

[Photo: Shao Z., Chinese Hot Pot / Serious Eats]

#1  Peking Duck

Substitute your turkey for a Chinese favorite -- Peking-style duck! All you need is soy sauce, honey, and ginger to make the sauce. The rest is easy! If you’re interested, check out this recipe:
Peking Duck on Allrecipes.com»

#2  Xiao Long Bao

Instead of garlic bread, try making authentic Shanghai soup dumplings. The dumplings are filled with steaming broth. It’s best eaten with a Chinese soup spoon and a delicate hand as to not pierce the outside. Check out this recipe:
Shanghai Soup Dumpling on Epicurious»

#3  Hot Pot

We saved the best for last -- hot pot is a widespread Asian dining experience. A simmering pot of boiling water is placed at the center of the table with smaller dishes of thinly sliced raw meat, fish, and vegetables around it. With chopsticks, choose your meal and cook it in the hot pot until it’s fully browned. It’s fun, easy, and delicious! For more information, see this recipe:
Chinese Hot Pot on SeriousEats.com»

If you choose any (or all) of these three recipes, make sure to let us know by posting on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Jun 19

Double Fifth Festival... the Food!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Now that we have all read an abbreviated notation of the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the "Double Fifth," let's go eat!

Food. Sustenance. Delight.

The key component, no matter if you live by the water or deeper inland, is food. The main component of any culinary gathering is the "zongzi" dumpling, so named for the long leaf (similar to a bamboo leaf) in which it is wrapped [粽子].

Food, and our olfactory recall, is intricately tied to our memory. For some Americans, they can remember going to sleep on Thanksgiving Eve, with the mouth-watering smell of pumpkin pies baking in the oven. For many Chinese, youngsters can remember going to sleep smelling the zongzi cooking in the kitchen to be devoured the following day for breakfast.

Zongzi dumpling

Indeed, the maker of the zongzi is held in high esteem in many Chinese families, as this is a "one day only" item to eat. This honor can even cross gender lines.

Process: The process of zongzi making takes several hours, beginning with boiling and then soaking the bamboo-type leaves overnight to reconstitute them. Then, the special rice needs to soak for 3 hours or so. Meat (usually pork, so abundant) is condimented and cooked; later combined with the rice. Many families nowadays buy the "salty egg" yolk (could be duck or chicken) because that brining process takes a few weeks. The actual shape of the dumpling can vary depending on the length and width of the leaves used—some look more like bulging triangles, others look like delicate isosceles triangles, just a few degrees wide.

Regional Differences:

Of course, there are town and regional differences. (Who can forget the famous zongzi of Jia Xing?) Northern China serves savory zongzi; the South, in this instance, serves salty ones. In a Southern metropolis like Shanghai, that generally loves the slightly sweet/savory juxtaposition, one can find:

  • "Salty" varieties (containing pork, and/or "salty egg" yolk, which is quite traditional)
  • "Sweet" varieties (containing red bean paste, jujube or even dates). There is even a variation of "sweet" zongzi: a plain rice zongzi dipped in sugar or honey.

What a treat!

New World Varieties:

After viewing some pictures of "zongzi" online, I am reminded of the Cuban "tamal" made with reconstituted corn husks, yellow corn meal, and pork filling; the Nicaraguan (and Honduran) "nacatamal" made with fresh banana leaf, white corn meal, and a meat filling. Let us not forget the Mexican "tamal" as well. This type of cooking and food preparation must surely be the origin of "food on the go," a meal neatly packaged in a biodegradable leaf!

*  *  *

Here at Jump!, culture is deeply embedded in food offerings. Our native-speaking teachers revel in sharing the culture, music, rhymes, holidays, and food of their home countries. Any food presentation will be the culmination of a thematic presentation on a specific country, region or town, or a holiday. A few examples: the "Rosca de Reyes" or "Kings' Bread Ring" presented during Three Kings' Day in Latin America. Or the "Pan de Muerto" [a bread roll] offered during the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead, right around Halloween. How about a simple quesadilla for Cinco de Mayo? Food is truly a delightful way to "build bridges" and see, smell and taste how people eat in a different part of the world.

Jackie Sanin, the school's CEO, hopes that our students, whether they have spent 1, 2, 3 or 4 years at Jump! Immersion School, can blend in with locals during their travels or studies and not skip a beat. As a parent, I daydream about that. Be open to the possibilities.

Be sure to check out yesterday's post about Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the "Double Fifth"

Jun 18

Double Fifth Festival or Make it Rain!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

An abbreviated history and key items regarding the Dragon Boat Festival or Duan Wu [端午节]

Thanks to my Shanghainese friend, I have a clearer insight on the different aspects of the Dragon Boat Festival... and a growling stomach yearning for good food to eat!

The Dragon Boat Festival is a multi-layered fête celebrated in China and other countries with ethnic Chinese. The Chinese government officially declared it a holiday in 2007. The race festivities typically occur near rivers and ports.

Historical Origins

The historical origins revolve around a minister and poet, Qu Yuan, who so loved his state that he drowned himself in the river (fearing dominion by the neighboring state of Qin). His poetry is cited in ancient texts but the language itself has been lost to history. To avoid the river fish eating his body, the townspeople threw food such as eggs and dumplings called "zongzi" into the river, all the while scouting the river for his remains. This is one event to commemorate during the Festival period.

Religious & Folk Origins

Religious/folk/agrarian origins: Another layer of the Festival reveals folk traditions that are alive and well in modern China. The Chinese have been racing for thousands of years. Typically, the Festival [五月初五] (or the 5th day of the 5th month) falls around mid-June. Regardless of the exact date, what you can count on is the start of warmer temperatures, and rice planting in south/central China, where this Festival originates. What do farmers do during this time?

The Dragon Deity

Ask for rain from the Dragon deity that watches over water. Although there are Mountain and Sea Dragons, even the Ni'an of Chinese New Year, their mythical role is to control water of all kinds: river, lakes and oceans of the earth as well as the water in the sky (hence the rain). Dragons [龙] traditionally are not seen as malevolent but beneficent. Dragons represent the Emperor, and the Chinese also like to associate themselves with the powerful Dragon (compared to the other ordinary animals of the Zodiac). Rain is needed for the rice crop, so the Dragon must be invoked.

The Cleansing Element

Putting aside crops for a moment, one can also use the boat races as a cleansing element as the summer is ushered in. The physical and mental effort necessary to race a "dragon boat" is said to keep disease away. For an interesting detailed description on the mechanics of "paddling" the boats, this writer encourages you to begin your research here. Crew lovers will love it!

(i)  Regular folks who do not partake in the races will still "protect" and strengthen their bodies with a fortifying wine, translated as a "Realgar Wine." [雄黄酒] I do urge you to look up a fairy tale for mature audiences, called the "Legend of the White Snake". [白蛇传] It is about a man that fell in love with a changling sorceress. Part of the story takes place in Hangzhou, at the West Lake, relatively near Shanghai. All I will say is that sometimes, drinking (in excess?) will show a person's "true colors" or true form.

(ii)  For young children, who do not participate in these demanding races, families would place small aromatic pouches with herbs, e.g. mint, to keep children healthy and safe. These pouches are worn continuously until they fall off (although they may also be placed bedside at night). This is Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM), which could be a whole different post.

(iii)  Not only is the body cleansed, but living quarters are cleansed as well. With warmer temperatures arriving, agrarian peoples would routinely witness a certain group of five poisonous animals crawl into homes: snakes, centipedes, scorpions, geckos and toads. [蛇,蜈蚣,蝎子,壁虎,蟾蜍] These animals are considered physically dangerous (i.e. poisonous) but also harbingers of evil spirits. People would also hang mugwort leaves and calamus from doors and windows to help keep these animals at bay.

Check back tomorrow to read about some culinary treats!

Jun 01

International Children's Day

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Did you know?

Today is the June First International Children's Day in China [六一国际儿童节 or liù yī guó jì ér tóng jié]. Children 14 years and younger are given a "pass" on school work and are taken outside the confines of school for the day. Schools typically sponsor field trips to such places as a local park, or a zoo or even an amusement park.

Children's Day Celebrations Worldwide!

Children’s Day is celebrated in many countries. The roots of the commemorative day were initially to bring awareness to children's rights, the importance of education, safety, sanitation, and even life itself.

Festivities can run from January to December, with the Bahamas starting the party on the first Friday of January (typically the 1st through the 3rd), to the island of Dominica on the last Friday in December (typically the 25th through the 30th). The Spanish-speaking countries refer to this day as el Día del Niño.

This year at Jump! Immersion School we opted to celebrate the Mexican holiday on April 30th. Our students were thrilled to have popcorn, dancing, and a special visit from not one... but TWO guests: Mickey Mouse and a Friendly Clown! It was the talk of the hallway during pick-up in the afternoon.

Jump! Immersion School values festivities celebrated around the world. We like to occasionally take the time to engage in festivities during our Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language track programs and even our summer camp programs and weave in laughter and play... lest we forget we are working for children. We follow the founding principles of Jackie Sanin, the CEO, to make time for a song or a dance to lift our overall spirits!

Apr 23

Connections Across Cultures: Qingming Festival

China and the Chinese celebrated the Qingming Festival this year on Sunday, April 5th. This date marked an important point—a "seasonal division point"—the precise moment that suggests the sun's position. (As a lunisolar calendar system, the festival date can vary slightly from April 4th to 6th.) Traditionally, farmers used this system to help them plant and harvest during the most auspicious times. Additionally, religious and medical advocates also used this knowledge to advise on matters ranging from health to food intake, activities, etc. To me, a simple city-dweller, this sounds roughly like a Farmer's Almanac on "turbo drive."

Today, these "seasonal division points" are considered common knowledge in the Chinese psyche. For outsiders and foreigners, enjoy the meaningful titles: Qingming means "Clear and Bright" or "Pure Brightness." Who cannot support a festival of "clear and bright?"

What Happens During Qingming Festival?

Some traveling, some food and light exercise. Sounds like a great day to me! Pre-shopping necessary. Let's explore from our armchairs.

1. Remembering Your Ancestors & Sweeping their Final Resting Place

In order to minimize work disruptions, the Qingming Festival became a national holiday in China in 2008. Many individuals traveled home to the countryside to visit their ancestors' graves and before 2008 many people would simply take the days off of work surrounding that time. (See another instance of traveling home for a Chinese holiday».)

For those who live near or in the countryside, the day can begin with a trip to the cemetery, mausoleum or columbarium (tall building that houses niches with individual boxes of cremated ashes). Having land in China costs a fortune, so authorities prefer (rather, mandate) cremation for population control. However, one can always find exceptions to this rule with a little (or a lot) of cash in hand. The whole family is encouraged to go to the cemetery, including young children. This is part of the cycle of life that needs to be witnessed, no matter your age.

For those who live in a metropolitan city like Shanghai (population 14+ million)—which is another "melting pot" of domestic immigration—a family might just have a small "altar" on a table in their home or some other commemorative place. Or maybe just a photograph of their special ancestor hung on the wall (again, every centimeter counts in city apartments!)

What do you do?

Give the area a cleaning, burn some incense. Put out some of the deceased family member's favorite food, served cold... it can be meat (such as pork, amply found in China), fruit, etc. Say a prayer, or have a commemorative moment.

"We toast to you, Grandmother, and wish you well. This past year we have accomplished A, B and C and have been challenged with X, Y and Z. We hope this new year will be healthy and prosperous."

The cleansing and/or the toast is made with a strong white rice wine. And no sips allowed here, as that would be construed as disrespectful or lacking seriousness. Toasts in China are culturally diverse and intricate: what you say, where, and to whom depends on the occasion.

What do you wear?

It’s appropriate to wear black, white, yellow, or any somber color. Avoid the color red and other bright colors.

Additional offerings?

Only one particular flower is traditionally used for this day of remembering the dead: the Chrysanthemum. Note to self: do not give a mixed bouquet containing Chrysanthemums to my child's Mandarin teacher… I might be giving mixed messages!

Every Chinese knows the poem by Du Mu, a Tang Dynasty writer. The poem tells of a sad scene in early April:

"It drizzles endlessly during the rainy season in spring.
Travelers along the road look gloomy and miserable.
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern,
He points at a distant hamlet nestled amidst apricot blossoms."

If you do brave the traffic and make it to the cemetery, after the cleansing and toasting, most people will take the food with them on their next stop: a park, field, etc. Best not to tempt feral animals with your delicacies.

2. No Cooking Over a Stove - Eat Cold Dishes

This aspect of cold culinary dishes actually began as a separate feast, the Hanshi Festival. It used to take place the day before Qingming, however the festivals were eventually combined. The cold food that is served is "Grandmother's" favorite. There is a very interesting legend behind the "cold food," the legend of Jie Zhitui. Although the details are for mature audiences, the story centers on the core principles of devotion, respect, tolerance and humility. What would one man do for his king, what amount of sacrifice? See here for more details»

You may have noticed that certain foods are tied to specific festivals. No? Take a look at this:

Autumn Moon Festival Moon cakes
Dragon Boat Festival Zong zi (pyramid shaped rice with fillings wrapped in reed or bamboo.
Chinese New Year In Shanghai (the South), glutinous rice balls called Tang tuan. In the North, dumplings.
Qingming Festival More glutinous rice, dyed with green vegetable juice and stuffed withsweet bean paste.In Shanghai, called Qing Tuan.Traditionally, shaped like a ball. See picture below!

These green ball-shaped delicacies can be filled with savory items, such as vegetables or meat, if one dislikes the traditional slightly sweet staple. After over 10 years of searching in the greater NYC area, my Shanghainese friend has not had any luck finding these. Does anyone know of any authentic eateries?

3. Spring Outings/Promenades or an Afternoon in the Park

If people can get to the countryside, a field, or perhaps to a local park, families will want to partake in a leisurely stroll. Sportier types may want to conquer nearby hills with a hike. Children run around, ride bicycles, all that is normal for little ones to do. Families will likely have a simple picnic (again, with cold food only), perhaps fly a kite, etc.

People want to enjoy the fresh air, warmer temperatures, the new greenery and flowering buds on trees. Life brims with hope.

I do believe this concept of spring picnics crosses borders. How about Georges Seurat's pointilliste masterpiece: "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte?"

4. Release a Lighted Lantern or "Floating Luminary"

Whatever you want to call these Sky Lanterns, they are beautiful. A string of little candles is secured to the base of the lantern and released to the heavens. Many say they look like shining stars. In Mandarin, the translation of these night-time floating lanterns is: God's lantern [shén dēng].

Even Rapunzel in the Disney movie "Tangled" must have had an inkling about this».

5. Plant a Tree

For those with a "green thumb" or who are environmentally conscious, the Qingming Festival is also a time to plant saplings. This point in time increases the chances of a healthy tree, strong and tall. Any young tree/sapling will do. You would see this primarily in the countryside where landowners have earth to plow. In the past, Qingming Festival was also called "Arbor Day," however, the Chinese Government also created an official holiday in 1979 for planting trees: March 12th.

Building Bridges & Making Connections

Many of the same beliefs and traditions of the Chinese Qingming Festival are celebrated in other cultures in various ways. Consider:

    Pictured: Day of the Dead altar, image credit to http://www.mingei.org/about/news/1003

  • Spring Equinox in the West
    This begins to remind me of the Spring Equinox, which for the West, fell on Friday, March 20th, signaling the official beginning of spring.

  • Persia and Nowruz (or No rooz)
    This also reminds me of a dear Iranian-American family (by way of Wisconsin and Tehran) who celebrate Nowruz, which is a celebration of the Spring Equinox and New Year. Same general time: around March 21st. This wonderful celebration has a spring cleaning component, and is accompanied by special food and other items (that range from a hand mirror to a hyacinth plant to a small bowl with goldfish and much more).

    * Note: the last Tuesday of their Old Year is commemorated with a jump over a fire to drive out the cold and "paleness" of winter and welcome the Spring, heat and light. I remember participating in a jump over a small fire (created in a disposable aluminum brownie pan) one evening, sparks flying...and then I was regaled with a night-time view of the stars through a jumbo telescope. What a gift to be able to take a few moments to gaze at the constellations and pick out figures like the Big Dipper and Orion the Hunter...

    This entire celebration radiates symbolism and mysticism. For a beginning conversation on this holiday, see Wikipedia and then I would advise to continue the conversation with any Iranian acquaintances for further fine-tuning.

  • Spring Cleaning and the U.S.
    Even non-believers, at least in the Northern U.S., have a general "spring cleaning" of closets, the house, the garage. Et voila--we are all linked together.

  • Day of the Dead and Mexico
    And, as for remembering the dead, and celebrating their life, embracing this cycle, who can forget the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico? It is common to have/create "altars" for the dearly departed. Read more here to get a general sense of this holiday.

At Jump! Immersion School, the administration and teaching staff continually cultivate an openness and respect for other cultures at all levels. Teachers make connections every day, tying in prior topics, nurturing critical thinking and highlighting similarities and differences amongst us. They approach subjects from different angles and encourage thinking "outside the box" in new and creative ways. Children may say, from time to time, the "darndest things," but we like it that way.

Enjoy the Spring that has arrived; forsythias are blooming, along with daffodils! Spring is in the Air.

Feb 13

An Introduction to Chinese New Year

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Celebrating a New Year... in February??? Yes, indeed!

The Gregorian (or "Western") calendar is not the only calendar used on the planet. The 1 billion+ people in China, among other countries, use the Lunar calendar and that New Year is coming up! Precisely on February 19th.

As the traditional Chinese attach zodiac characters to their yearly cycles, this year is the Year of the Sheep. Very simplified: All people born in a year share the same zodiac sign. (Here’s a link to read more if you are curious about the signs, the variations, etc)

I personally have the fine distinction to be classified as a Rat. I wish the term “mouse” was used instead (better connotations?) but rats are clever and sneaky… Sounds like any mom to me! Which one are you? Find out here. (This will give you a rough idea by year, although the "Lunar New Year" to be more correct does not start on January 1st, so you will need to type in your entire date of birth on other websites to be most accurate).

Chinese New Year: A Four-Part Series

Enough of the background information. Are you still with me? I am writing this entry as an introduction to a special 4-Part Series on the Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. I have not yet had the good fortune to visit the "Middle Kingdom" or Zhongguo (中 国 ), however I want to present cultural traditions, including food, to show our differences and similarities.

As I step off my soap box, I will say that this is one illustration or intended consequence of learning another language: to make connections with others, find the similarities and perhaps, dare I say it, revel in some of the differences. Jump's! founder, Jackie Sanin, strongly believes that with language immersion, we learn that "we are more similar than different," and I must echo that sentiment. I have seen it in my travels. If you distill our wants as human beings, we seek: gainful employment, to provide for ourselves, and provide for our families. We worry about school, safety, and our children. This is the case if you are a sheep herder from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, an electrician in Whippany, NJ, or a private equity trader in Manhattan, NY.

As we can all imagine, just as we cannot classify or distill certain traditions to the entire United States, one cannot use a broad brush stroke to simplify things across all of China. There are regional differences, to be sure, but also city vs. countryside differences. We will highlight some of those as we learn more about Chinese New Year over the next few days.

Please take this journey with me as we count down to celebrate Chinese New Year!

This post is the introduction to 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

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A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »