Hello! I had a busy weekend, how about you? Now that I have done my requsite half day of work to make up the time I took off, I can bring you today’s post, which is about festivals! We’re going to look at three different festivals.

Chinese New Year

Whilst this tends to happen in february time for us, chinese new year is a really big celebration over there, and whilst there are lots of things that happen at new years (the celebrations last for fifteen whole days) one of the customs is the Dragon Dance.

In China, dragons are helpful and friendly creatures, and are linked with good luck, long life, and wisdom. They are associated with storm-clouds and rain, as it was often thought that the dragons controlled the weather, and thus gave the people bountiful harvests. In the New Year’s celebrations, dragons dances are performed to ward off evil spririts, and to bring good luck with them into the new year.

dragon-dance-source_9w2The dragons that are used in the dances themselves are very colourful, although often red since that is the chinese colour of luck, and can be any length fro a few metres to hundreds of meters long, taking multiple people to hold the poles that span the dragon and make it dance. Sometimes there is one man who holds the ‘Pearl of Wisdom’, and he will go at the front, and the dragon will then chase after the pearl, seeking wisdom and knowledge.

The longer the dragons, and the longer the dance goes on for, the more luck is brought by the dragon into the new year, so dragon dances tend to go on until the dancers are too tired to carry on!

 

Dragon Boat Racing

Another festival that started in China, this is now celebrated around the world. A dragon boat is a long canoe which is decorated with a dragon head and tail, and sometimes scales if feeling decorative, and then used in a race. Teams of people will paddle the boat down a course in races agaisnt other teams in order to win!

Oct-01-7-2013-Dragon-Boat-CHINATypically these days it is done in order to raise money for charity, and lots of coporations have dragon boat days where families will get together and make a day of it. Since it tends to happen in June/July, it makes a rather good day out, as long as the weather holds.

This events is traditionally supposed to take place on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, at the time of the annual Duanwu Festival, and was thought to have originated over 2,500 years ago, possibly around the same time as the greek olympic games. It is thought that it was one of the main events of an important festival in the agricultural community, part of the water rituals and celebration of the summer harvest.

 

Norwich Dragon Festival

I know, my home city has a dragon festival, how freaking cool is that! (For those of you that do not know, I live in Norwich, England, as in the UK. *waves hello to any international folk*)

The only down side was that I was at work whilst it was going on, so I didn’t get to go to many of the talk that were happening because they were all at 2pm *sad face*.

norwichdragonfestival2014_brochurecover400px

But I did get to do some bits of it, and I can tell you about Dragons in Norwich as well.

Norwich Dragon Festival Trailer

Snap is the Norwich processional dragon, and has been with the city since the 15th century, back in a time where the world was filled with saints and guilds. The dragon, with it’s ability to breathe fire and eat people, was seen as one of the most terrifying beasts around, and was seen as a powerful symbol in art. Art was prevailent since most people at the time could not read or write, but dragons were almost always depicted being defeated by one of three popular saints: Saint Micheal the Archangel, Saint Margaret of Antioch, or the most famous of all, Saint George.

The story of Saint George goes that there was a ferocious dragon living outside of a city, and the people did not want it to eat them, so left an offering or two sheep each day for the dragon to eat. Eventually though, then ran out of sheep, so they started to leave one human for it to eat, every day, who was chosen by lot. Until one day, the King’s daughter was chosen. She was awaiting her fate at the mouth of the dragon’s cave when George happened to pass by on horseback: he attacked the dragon, and killed it, freeing the city from it’s reign of terror (and converting them all to Christians).

The tale originated in Saxon times, but became very popular around the time of the crusades. Saint George also became associated with the city of Norwich, and at time has often been said to be the patron saint of the city, and we have two churches here dedicated to him, St George Colegate and St George Tombland, with images of him and the dragon prevailent in the stain glass and artwork around these churches, as well as many others in the city (Norwich is said to have a pub for every day of the year, and a church for every week. We have the most churches per thousand population in Europe I believe.).

Eventually Saint George got his own guild in the city, that was founded in 1385. They held services and raised money for a statue of the saint to be built in the city. Enough famous knights were in the guild, and helped out in the battles of the time that in 1417 King Henry V granted the guild a royal charter. It was around this time (specifically survving records date from 1420) that we find mention of the dragon for the first time, in a procession held by the guild in the town, where Saint George would do battle with the dragon as the procession went through the town. This procession got more and more elaborate as the centuried went on, and the dragon got rebuilt and refurbished many time, but was always reffered to as a Snap Dragon, for his moving head and snapping jaws.

By the 18th Century the guild had ceased to exist, but the Snap Dragon could still been seen in the annual procession, but this time it was in the Lord Mayor’s procession. Even today, the dragon is still a big part of the Lord Mayor’s procession every year, although few people know that it dates back to the fight of Saint Geroge and the Dragon, covering over six centuries of local history, and simple call him the Norwich Dragon Snap!

Phew! That was a lot of local history for you!

dragon-spell_cover200x425There were things that I got to do which didn’t involve history. Arts and crafts for the kids (I snagged some colouring in pages and did them at home) as well as ‘The Dragon Spell’ – a hunt across the city to find the letters of the dragon’s spell (so much fun!) and a performance of a metal, firebreathing dragon by Dragon Heart Beats. Watch part of the performance here:

Dragon Heart Beats

I found the dragon hunt very fun, and I have a postcard up on my wall to prove that I did it. There is also a poem (the first letter of each line made up the dragon’s spell, it was so cool!) which I was going to put in this post, but then it got really long. Although if people want to see it, I can put it in another post or something. It was written by George Szirtes especially for the festival and everything 🙂

 

 

So there you have it, Dragon Festivals. Hope you’re still enjoying April. I now have to go and find something to eat because I’ve just realised that the last thign I ate was breakfast seven hours ago!

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