Dates for assembly

16th January 2004 at 00:00
January 22 Chinese New Year's Day

This year, the 12-day festival heralds the start of the Year of the Monkey.

Outline script for assembly leader

Long ago in one part of China, there lived a ferocious monster called Nia.

Whenever food was scarce in mid-winter, Nia would leave the forests and lumber into the nearest village in the hope of finding someone to catch and eat. Nobody knew how to frighten Nia away. Then, one day, a villager happened to hang a bright red sheet from a tree. Frightened by the brightness of the sheet, Nia turned and ran away, and was never seen again.

At New Year, in memory of this legend, Chinese people stick sheets of red paper to their doors, gates and houses to protect them from evil.

They also cut gold paper into the shape of words, saying such things as "May we be happy for ever" and stick these sayings on the red banners.

Before the New Year starts, houses are cleaned to get rid of all past misfortunes. At 11 o'clock on the night of the new moon, joss sticks are lit and fireworks set off to scare away all evil. Next day (New Year's Day), everyone eats dumplings made from sticky rice or flour. In one, a piece of gold or silver, or a jewel will be hidden. Whoever finds it will have good luck for the whole year.

The Chinese calendar is the oldest in the world, dating from 2500bce. Long after it was created, the founder of Buddhism, known as the Buddha, lived in India. Near the time of his death, he asked all the animals to visit him. Twelve came: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog and boar (or pig) and he named the years in that order.

The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which you are born is one influence on your personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart."

Follow-up

* Decorate a room with red and gold paper banners and burn joss sticks during assembly.

* Attempt to eat rice with chopsticks.

* Information about the years and calendar: www.new-year.co.ukchinese www.chinatown-online.org.uk

You can send electronic Chinese New Year cards from both sites.

* Worksheets for the youngest children: www.underfives.co.ukchnsenyr.html

* Street festivals are held in London, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester.

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