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Weekend Fun: Dragon Days and Dragon Dances

Weekend Fun: Dragon Days

This year, the Lunar New Year begins on February 1. Many cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year by honoring their ancestors, eating traditional foods, and celebrating with special games, parades, and fireworks. The parades in Chinese communities around the world usually feature lion dances and dragon dances.

Dragons feature prominently in literature, but the dragons guarding treasure at a castle or in a cave are not the same as the colorful dragons of the Lunar New Year. The cave and castle dragons are western dragons, and the long, colorful Lunar New Year dragons are eastern dragons.

Eastern dragons and western dragons are similar but not alike. Both have scales like a reptile, and both have wings – but while the eastern dragon has tiny wings, often pictured on its legs, the western dragon has large wings on its back. Where the western dragon has a body shaped more like a large bird, the eastern dragon is long – the longer the better, for it is believed to bring good luck.

Check out some dragon books – we have many – on your next library visit! Students may want to look at The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao, which is a fantasy adventure featuring Chinese mythology, or the popular Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland that features western-style dragons. A fantasy classic featuring western dragons is The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.

Many ages will enjoy D Is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine, which is an alphabet book that introduces icons and customs of the Lunar New Year.

Younger children may enjoy A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong, which features a family’s celebration of the Lunar New Year and was a winner of the Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award. For western dragons, look at Old MacDonald Had a Dragon by Ken Baker, which takes place on a farm (of course) and features a dragon that swallows all of Farmer MacDonald’s animals whole, one by one (yet ends happily), or How to Draw a Dragon by Douglas Florian, which shows western dragons doing a variety of things that kids like to do and includes instructions on how to draw them.

Extend the literary fun – or celebrate the Lunar New Year – by making your own dragons!

  1. Draw the body with wings, the head, and the tail on a paper plate (see photo below). TIP: It’s okay if your drawing isn’t exactly the same. Both the eastern and the western dragons will start with this pattern.
  2. Cut out the pieces.
  3. Fold the body in half so that there is a wing on each side.
  4. Decide if your dragon will be eastern or western: If it’s eastern, cut off the wings and turn the body upside down. Cut a small slit in the fold so that you will be able to insert the head. Cut each wing into two legs with claws (see photo).
  5. If making a western dragon, leave the wings as they are.
  6. Open the fold so that you can color the body.
  7. Color the body parts. Use any colors you wish, but remember that red is a lucky color for eastern dragons. Use more than one shade of the color you choose to add depth and dimension to the dragon’s body. Be sure to color both sides of the head, legs/wings, and tail but leave one side of the body uncolored.
  8. Rub with a facial tissue to blend the colors.
  9. Add patterns and scales with a black or any dark color crayon.
  10. For the western dragon: Generously apply glue inside the body’s fold. Stick the head and tail on either end and press the two body sides together. Rub briskly to seal.
  11. For the eastern dragon: Turn the body upside down so that the fold is at the top and generously apply glue inside the body’s fold. Stick the head at the front, the legs along the bottom, and the tail at the back. Then press the two body sides together and rub to seal it.

TIP: Use the leftover bits of paper plate to make the eastern dragon longer or to make a longer tail for the western dragon.

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