DSC_0479

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am hanging little beaded Chinese lanterns above the table in our classroom. They are one of the few crafts that I create at home and bring in to infuse our classroom with a mood for the coming celebration. I choose reds and golds, so as not to lose the spirit of the season, and to honor Chinese culture. I do so after I learn that cherry blossoms are not timely, for they are much more emblematic of spring, and while the Chinese New Year is one of those holidays that oscillates between winter and spring, it comes early this year, in January, and in our upstate New York classroom, winter is still very much alive around us. Our head teacher reminds me, as many have in my life, “Don’t go too fast.” Her comment voices that while we, as adults, are finished with the shoveling, the wet snow gear, and the lack of sun, to let them linger in the season.

An inquisitive child asks me, “What are you doing?”

“I am hanging Chinese lanterns.” I already question my response. Shifting between story and logic, logic and story, I am constantly reminded of how new I am at this world.

“What is Chinese?” And there it is: a once simple question for me to answer now hangs in the room with deafening silence. I rely on the “That’s a great question!” response, but I sense that this child is ready for more and has heard that response perhaps a bit too often for her own eagerness to learn. I let myself off, and I feel comforted in knowing that I did not provide her with the facts or the history of China. I also trust that she will learn the answer in the coming weeks. I later share my experience with the head teacher; she responds so simply: “‘Chinese’ describes something that comes from China, a place far, far away on the other side of Earth.” And there’s the story. Give her a place of wonder. Where is far, far away? What does it look like? Let the child fill in the blanks with imagination.

DSC_0482

Over the next few weeks I strive to illuminate her question. The children busy themselves making spikes for the Chinese dragon.

Chinese Dragon,

Chinese Dragon,

Breathing Fire.

Happy, Happy New Year.

Happy, Happy New Year.

Gung Hay Fat Choy.

Gung Hay Fat Choy.

We sing Chinese New Year songs during our circle, and later at Outdoor Adventure, we shout them to the sky and to the brave birds circling us in the cold winter air as we walk through the woods. The children no longer ask me questions. They are becoming the story. Every day before lunch, I read them a Chinese folktale about a Goddess named Nuwa who creates people from mud and then later saves them from a flood. I choose this tale not only for its cultural value, but because several of the children have been experimenting with making figures out of mud on our long afternoon walks. I choose it to speak to them personally. And my eyes get welled up when one of the children later tells me that I am Nuwa. Together, we are living the story. Together, we are creating a festival. Together, we are becoming a definition to what is Chinese.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

Let’s Say Hi To All Our Friends.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

 

On the day of our Chinese New Year, we gather outside the Oak House inside a long green cloth, stretching ourselves to become the dragon.DSC_0487

The children finally get to raise their spikes for the performance and provide a moment for the younger children to experience what we have been growing into for the past few weeks. In just a few short minutes, we round the corner of the Acorn House, lifting our spikes and voices, delivering sweet orange treats wrapped in tissue and silk ribbons, a gesture so simple, but huge to their small hands. The Oaks with beaming pride continue the chanting as we round the play yard and drift off into the meadow.

 

DSC_0494A small child asks his teacher, “Why can’t the dragon stay?” And I too am saddened when I have to leave shortly after the parade; I want to hear the festival living even more inside of each of them.

When I come back in the afternoon to pick up my own child, a sweet orange treat in his hand, I overhear three boys running from the Oak House singing “Chinese Dragon! Chinese Dragon!” And although my son clearly saw me standing behind the dragon’s head just a few short hours earlier, when he waved right at me and I cried at his elation, he tells me the whole story, how a dragon visited the school and gave them special treats. I listen with complete wonder.

In Waldorf teaching, we wish for our children to experience a journey rather than learn about it. That day, and during those late January weeks, I learned a lot about the power of festival. I was able to experience renewal and the important act of celebrating a new year. Whether we are in China or in America, or somewhere in between, festivals and traditions are the roots in which all people keep growing, to tap into the rhythms of nature, to awaken our senses and recreate this story called life.

– MacKenzie Kell, Acorn School Teacher

 DSC_0480