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Holidays & Seasons        < Previous        Next >


Chinese New Year Dragon Dance


Today's Snack: Fortune cookies!




The Chinese New Year comes quite a while after the American one. That's because Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar. Each month begins on the darkest day of that month, based on the phases of the moon. In China, people may take weeks off work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year. It's their biggest holiday of the year.


At Chinese New Year celebrations, people wear red clothes, write poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. That's why they have fireworks and the lantern festival, which symbolizes the reunion of people with their departed ancestors. And it's why they have the spectacular dragon dance, featuring a colorful dragon as long as 100 feet.



The dragon's fire is supposed to sweep away everything that's bad. The Bible may declare that Satan is a dragon, but in China, the dragon is a good guy.


The dragon for the elaborate dragon dances is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. It may be held up by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. They may hold up lightweight hoops to keep the structure of the dragon's body going for such a long length.


For kids, you can make a cute and homespun dragon's head and put on your own dragon dance.



You will need:


Large shirt box, lid and base, for the "jaws"

A smaller and preferably rounded, lightweight box or container (in the picture above, the dragon's head was a hollow caddy for plastic bags)

Green foil tabletopper (look in the St. Patrick's Day section at a party store)

Scotch tape

Clear plastic packing tape

Ice pick or large nail

Two brads


A little red foil or shiny red wrapping paper

White cardstock or shiny white paper

A little orange tissue paper

Tennis ball, cut in half

Hot glue gun

Neon orange paper

Colorful crepe paper

A long (20 feet or more?) stretch of fabric, perhaps borrowed from a fabric store, seamstress or upholsterer, approximately five feet per child in the dance . . . or safety-pin several blankets or sheets together to get the length you need

Jingle bells


First, cover the box lid and base, and the rounded box or container, with the green foil. You may have to cut it on a cardboard surface with an X-acto knife or utility knife; scissors tend to bunch it up. Tape over the insides, too, so that the lid and base are both completely covered.


Put the lid partway on the base, and poke a hole through both. Twist a piece of wire around the head of each brad, then thread the wire through each of the two holes. Follow up by sticking the brads through the holes, too. Pull the wires taut on the outside, and twist together. The brads and wire will allow the dragon's "jaw" to open and shut. Tape down excess wire with plastic packing tape so it won't poke anybody.


Now hot-glue the smaller container vertically on the lid so that the dragon has a "head." Be sure to support it with plastic packing tape as well, because this dragon is going to "dance" and you don't want this structure to fall off and tear the foil.


Let kids get creative on how else to construct the dragon. You could cut a red foil tongue and tape on . . . big, white teeth or rows of teeth . . . tissue-paper "flames" coming out of nostrils . . . a tennis ball cut in half with reptilian "pupils" drawn on with black marker . . . neon orange posterboard fragments off to the sides like whiskers . . . colorful crepe paper streamers . . . and whatever else makes sense, including scales and claws.


You're ready to dance! Now work out a system for who gets to be the dragon's "head," and perhaps take turns. That person should get ready to dance down the hall, into the gym, outside, or wherever the path of your dragon dance may lead. Other kids fall in place behind that kid, evenly spaced, and adults can spread the fabric or sheets over them. The last child should hold the jingle bells and shake them as they all snake around.


If you have more children than you have room in the dragon, the others can make Chinese Lanterns (After School Treats, Holidays & Seasons #13) and dance alongside the dragon on its path.


Have fun! And Gung Hay Pot Choy - Happy Chinese New Year!


By Susan Darst Williams Holidays & Seasons 12 2008


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