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ROMKids Artventures: Celebrating Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year, Artventurers!

Today we make a tiny version of two zodiac animals, the Ox and the Rat, so grab your materials and get ready to meet your new animal friends. Then, delve into the fascinating world of lunar calendars and the many traditions in Asia to celebrate the New Year.

The Ox and the Rat

Many Asian cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year have a zodiac system where a different animal represents each year in a 12-year cycle. Most of the animals are the same in each culture, but with some small differences.

In 2020, the 12-year cycle started again with the Rat (or Mouse). In 2021, the Year of the Ox (or Buffalo) begins. In many zodiac stories from countries like China, South Korea, and Vietnam, the Rat gets help from the Ox to win a special race or cross a big river by riding on the Ox’s head. In honour of this year’s zodiac, we are creating an Ox and Rat to join us on our learning adventure!



  • Toilet paper roll
  • Clothespin
  • Cardboard or sturdy paper
  • Paint (Brown, pink, grey)
  • White paper
  • Glue (preferably white glue or a glue gun)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Black permanent marker
  • Thin black pen


  • Googly eyes
  • Yarn (preferably brown)
  • Pompoms (Grey and pink)
  • Pipe cleaner (pink)
Step 1 and 2

1. Cut a rectangle in the front, back, and on both sides of your toilet paper roll to create your ox’s feet. Cut about an inch off the top to make your ox a little shorter.

2. Using the leftovers from your toilet paper roll, cut out two small teardrop-shaped pieces about an inch long for your ox’s ears. Then, take a sheet of white paper and cut out two long horns and a little snout. The shape of the ox’s nose should resemble a peanut.

3. Paint the whole toilet paper roll brown. For the ox’s ears, paint the inside a light pink and outline along the edges in the same brown colour.

4. While your paint is drying, let’s start building your rat. Sketch the outline of a rat on a piece of cardboard or a sturdy piece of paper and cut it out. We shaped ours like a teardrop, which will be the top of the rat.

If you are missing a colour, you can mix paints to create it. For brown, you can mix purple and yellow, red and green, or blue and orange. To lighten a colour, add white. To darken a colour, add black. For our pink, we mixed red and white.

5. Paint the cardboard a grey (or whatever colour you want your rat to be!). Once it is dry, add on all of the rat’s features. Using the black pen, draw its ears and eyes. We used a little pink pompom for a nose and cut a small piece of pink pipe cleaner to make its tail. You can also use yarn and paper for the rat’s features, or grab some markers and draw them on. 

6. Attach the rat to the top of the clothespin. Glue the underside of the rat to the top of the clothespin so that it covers the longer end.

7. Now it’s time to attach all of the features to your ox. Glue the large horns to the inside of the toilet paper roll at the top. Just below the horns, attach your ears to the outside. Below each of those ears, glue on some googly eyes (or paint them, draw them, or make some out of paper). For the peanut-shaped snout, we used our black pen to draw two nostrils and then attached it below the eyes. 

As an additional touch, we added little pieces of orangey-brown yarn between the horns to give our ox hair!

Slightly bend your ox’s ears forward to give it a droopy effect. It also makes it easier to glue on!

8. Clip the clothespin to the back of the toilet paper roll -- it’ll look like the rat is riding the ox’s head!

Lunar and Lunisolar Calendar

The most commonly used calendar around the world is the Gregorian calendar--that’s the one that has January 1st as the start of the new year. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, meaning its dates are based on the position of the Sun. However, before the Gregorian calendar was created in the 1500s, many cultures used lunar or lunisolar calendars. Lunar calendars base their dates on the phases of the Moon. Lunisolar calendars are a mix of both. Many cultures around the world still use lunar and lunisolar calendars to mark important holidays and religious events.

New Years Around the World

Many New Year celebrations are based on lunar and lunisolar calendars, and are celebrated with different events around the world. There are so many unique calendars that you can find New Year or Spring harvest celebrations throughout the year. Because of this, cultures often celebrate New Years at different times and for different lengths of time:

  • In Vietnam, the New Year is called Tết Nguyên Đán and usually starts sometime in January or February. Tết is celebrated for 7-9 days. This year it will be celebrated on February 12th.
  • Thailand's New Year, known as Songkran (เทศกาลสงกรานต์) is celebrated each year from the April 13th to April 16th.
  • In China, New Year or the Spring Festival (Chunjie, 春節) lasts for 16 days, ending in a special Lantern Festival. This year, the New Year starts on February 12th. 
  • Cambodian New Year, also known as Choul Chnam Thmey (បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី) is a three-day event that usually starts April 13th or 14th.
Celebrating the New Year

Some common traditions you may see during New Year events include adorning streets and houses in beautiful decorations, eating lots of delicious traditional food (often with family), wearing traditional clothing, exchanging gifts, setting off fireworks, and even cleaning the house from top to bottom to mark the beginning of Spring. However, there are also many traditions unique to each culture:

  • For Seollal (설날, Korean New Year), children bow to their elders (sebae, 세배) and say “saehae bok mani badeuseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요), meaning “Please receive a lot of good fortune for the New Year.” 
  • During Losar (ལོ་གསར་, Tibetan New Year), you might see the cham dance (འཆམ་) performed--a special dance for Buddhist festivals. 
  • For Saka New Year in Bali, Indonesia, people celebrate Nyepi or a “Day of Silence.” It is a primarily Hindu holiday devoted to introspection where the city shuts down and people stay indoors. Lights and sound are limited, work and travel are restricted, and most entertainment is put on pause to allow for quiet contemplation. Some people also choose not to eat or speak that day.
Wrap up!

What traditions are important in your household?

There are lots of different types of holidays around the world, each with their own special traditions. Consider your family’s traditions--you might put ornaments on a tree for Christmas, decorate with diyas for Diwali, light the menorah candles on Hanukkah, give chocolates on Valentine’s Day, or blow out candles on your birthday. It is important to respect and appreciate the beautiful customs around the world. There are lots of different cultures, traditions, and ways of celebrating!

What’s your zodiac?

Find out what animal sign you were born under in the Chinese zodiac and the special traits your animal sign possesses!

  • 1. The Rat is hardworking and clever. If you were born in 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, you were born in the YEAR OF THE RAT.

  • 2. The Ox is kind and reliable.If you were born in 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, you were born in the YEAR OF THE OX.

  • 3. The Tiger is courageous and generous.If you were born in 1974, 1986, 1998 ,2010, you were born in the YEAR OF THE TIGER.

  • 4. The Rabbit is joyful and peaceful. If you were born in 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, you were born in the YEAR OF THE RABBIT.

  • 5. The Dragon is charming and a great leader. If you were born in 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, you were born in the YEAR OF THE DRAGON.

  • 6. The Snake is intelligent and wise.If you were born in 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, you were born in the YEAR OF THE SNAKE.

  • 7. The Horse is independent and headstrong. If you were born in 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, you were born in the YEAR OF THE HORSE.

  • 8. The Sheep is creative and harmonious. If you were born in 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, you were born in the YEAR OF THE SHEEP.

  • 9. The Monkey is spirited and mischievous. If you were born in 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, you were born in the YEAR OF THE MONKEY.

  • 10. The Rooster is honest and rational. If you were born in 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 you were born in the YEAR OF THE ROOSTER.

  • 11. The Dog is loyal and emotional. If you were born in 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, you were born in the YEAR OF THE DOG.

  • 12. The Pig is patient and friendly. If you were born in 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, you were born in the YEAR OF THE PIG.

ROMKids Challenge
Updated Chinese zodiac case.
Figure of rat, worked and polished jade.
Tiger pendant, worked and polished jade.
Roof ridge finial of a dragon, moulded earthenware with glaze.

From left to right: Updated Chinese zodiac case. Figure of rat, 983.231.102. Tiger pendant 玉虎 虎, 931.13.3. Roof ridge finial displaying a dragon, 2000.106.1582.1.

Next time you’re at the ROM go on a quest to find the animals of the Chinese zodiac!

The ROM just updated the Chinese Zodiac display to celebrate the Year of the Ox. Head to the China Gallery—can you seek out all of the zodiac animals in the gallery?

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Authored by: Kiron Mukherjee

Authored by: Kiron Mukherjee