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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 email@example.com.Read More
An interview with Friends Spanish Teacher, Maria Gamboa, by Lou Bendrick
Tell us a little about yourself: What did you do previously and what brought you to teach Spanish at Friends School?
My family is from Mexico. I came to the USA to do my Ph.D. in Chemistry. When I was doing a post-doctorate at the University of Illinois I met my Polish husband, Krzysztof, and we decided to stay here in the USA. When we got our daughter, Monika, I decided that I wanted to take care of her at home. With the passing of the years, I changed careers and decided to teach Spanish, a career that I enjoy profusely.
For those who don’t know about Day of the Dead, will you explain what it is and why it is celebrated?
The Day of the Dead is a celebration to honor our ancestors. Its origins reside in the Mayan culture. However, with the coming of the Spaniards, the traditions from both sides got mixed and developed the Day of the Dead the way we celebrate it nowadays. So, in Mexico people go to the cemetery to clean the tombs of their beloved people who are not with them anymore and sometimes they stay in the tomb to talk, eat, drink, and sometimes even sing, talking about the person(s) and remembering the good times. In the evening, people go to a special Mass offered for the deceased. At home, people set “altares,” which are tables nicely ornamented to call and honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Where did you grow up and what were your family’s Day of the Dead traditions?
I grew up in several parts of Mexico. We did not visit the tombs of my relatives because they were in other States. Some years we set “altares” to remember our grandparents and we used to go to Mass to pray for their souls.
What are your traditions now?
I passed the traditions to my daughter, although we do not celebrate it formally at home. However, I enjoy talking about it at school and sharing the traditions of my country with my students.
What is your favorite part of this holiday?
All of it! When I teach it to my students, I enjoy comparing and contrasting it to Halloween. Also, I like the idea of colorful skulls, so as to say that we are not “afraid” of the dead but consider it as part of life.
Will you be doing anything special in your Spanish classes to celebrate?
Yes! This is a collaborative project between Art and Spanish classes. From 3rd to 8th grades, I explain the differences between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. We talk about the altars and what elements should be included in them. The students plan to make an altar (this year 3rd and 5th) and the whole school (K-5) contribute to make the elements in Art class. In 6th to 8th grades, students make colorful skeletons from paper rolls. Also, 4th and 6th grades go to the Museum in Longmont where there is a special exhibition about the Day of the Dead (although this year it got cancelled because of the weather.)Read More