by Bryn Pennington, Friends School Art Teacher

Growing up in the Bay Area, CA, I was exposed to a rich tapestry of cultural traditions. I remember rubbing turmeric on my friend so she would glow at her three day long Hindi wedding, and rolling sushi with friends from Japan. I felt humbled to experience the traditions of my closest friends, and today feel reverence for the people that shape them. I hope to grow appreciation for such traditions in Art Studio.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade & Festival / Facebook

My first memory of Chinese New Year happened in San Francisco. I remember squeezing through the thick crowd to glimpse a terrifying creature parading through loud, popping firecrackers. He was a long maze of red fabric and impossibly yellow fringe, growing three stories tall in one stride and coiling down to stare down onlookers the next. As he approached me, I realized my mom and dad were very far away! Thankfully, he cocked his head and blinked. With a playful nudge, he continued his acrobatic path down the street. 

Photo credit: Chinese New Year parade through the streets of San Francisco (©Knight Lights Photography)

Teaching in California decades later, we had our own celebration complete with stories, a Lion Dance (drums and fireworks of course), a feast of moon cakes and home-made potstickers. Many parents visited our classroom and explained their connection to Lunar New Year as well as the nuances that differentiated their country’s celebrations. 

Lion Dance 2019, with Moon

Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world, and Friends School is no exception. I invited Moon to share about the origin of Chinese New Year:

“(It’s) about a legend … (about) a monster called Nian. It came out to the villages and tried to scare people and hurt them… First, the gods came and locked him up on the edge of the world, where he stayed for one year. But then, the Nian escaped. People gathered in the village, and asked the gods to help them. The gods told them that the Nian was scared of the color red, loud noises and his own reflection. That’s why we dance with real firecrackers to make noise, to scare the Nian away… the  lion from the lion dance represents the Nian’s own reflection. And that’s how people scared the Nian away.”

Friends School Lunar New Year Art 2019

This year, Lunar New Year is January 25th. In Art Studio, each class will create a different art form representing this holiday, from fierce Lion masks to drums, glowing lanterns to Chinese Zodiac drawings. We read stories, compare traditions country to country, and watch performances to get a taste for the holiday that involves 20% of humanity. And, if we’re really lucky, we’ll see another Lion Dance to scare the Nian back to the edge of the world!

Happy New Year, everyone!

If you have a Lunar New Year tradition to share, please email Bryn at

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.