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Creating space to share Chinese New Year folklore here in the United States can feel especially satisfying, extending a thread that goes back centuries and crosses oceans. Here’s how a fun afternoon project making paper firecrackers can help kids connect with the old story of Nian.
So the story goes, there once was a lion-headed beast named Nian who would raid villages around the time of the lunar new year. The villagers discovered that Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises like clanging symbols and the crackling pops produced as they burned bamboo for heat. When firecrackers were invented, they became the noisemaker used to scare off Nian each year.
These days, you’ll still hear firecrackers popping at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Throughout the following days of the Spring Festival, long strings of red firecrackers will be lit in front of homes and businesses in Chinese communities across the United States to scare off evil spirits and celebrate the New Year.
As you’re out around town, you’ll likely see paper firecracker decorations amid the street festivities and the sea of red and gold meant to ward off bad luck and attract good fortune. Like most Chinese New Year decorations, they’re commonly hung near doorways and windows, or in communal gathering spaces.
Making a paper firecracker decoration with kids is really fun and requires only simple materials that you may already have around the house. The two key inputs are bright red construction paper and shiny gold tape, paper or paint. No points awarded for subtlety. The bolder, the better.
Kids will love applying their creativity to decorate the firecrackers, while you share the story of the fearsome beast and the villagers who save their homes by scaring him off. You’ll end up with a huge display of festive firecrackers ready to welcome the New Year and drive all the bad luck and evil spirits away.
Here’s how to make Chinese New Year paper firecrackers, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions is at the bottom of the page.
Your turn! Can you share any tips from your experience making these firecrackers? Want to ask a question before making them yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Chinese New Year Paper Firecrackers
Makes: 12 Firecrackers | Prep Time: 5 Minutes | Project Time: 2 Hours
2 sheets red construction paper (9″ x 12″)
Gold paint (for decorating)
Gold tape (for decorating)
Chinese red envelopes (for decorating)
The basic materials are super simple, basically red construction paper, scissors, tape, glue and kitchen twine. Where you can have the most fun is with the gold decorations you pick. Paint, glitter pens, washi tape and, my standby, Chinese red envelopes are all great picks.
Begin by cutting your paper down into 4″ by 4 1/2″ rectangles.
Next, lay the rectangles out lengthwise and decorate! You can create simple geometric patterns, glue designs from the red envelopes down or paint Chinese characters (here, I’ve written the 褔 character for good fortune).
When you’re done, you’ll have 12 completed firecracker bodies. Set everything aside to dry for about an hour.
When the glue and paint are dry, punch two holes at the top of the firecracker. The first should be about 1/2″ from the edge and the second should be about 2 1/2″ from the edge.
Next, roll the firecracker together, overlapping the edges by 1/8″, and secure with tape.
Here are all 12 firecrackers all taped and ready to string up.
Cut a 7′ length of kitchen twine. Run the first firecracker down the string until it’s right at the middle of the string. Secure it in place with a simple, loose half-knot.
At this point, I color one end of the string with a marker to keep left and right straight. Add a second firecracker to the right string, run it all the way down and secure it the same way, with a simple, loose half knot.
Now, do the same with a third firecracker on the left string, so it sits opposite the second.
Repeat with the remaining firecrackers, alternating right and left, until all the firecrackers are strung together.
If you have an extra red envelope available, lace it to the top of your string of firecrackers for an extra bit of red.
Tighten the lacing as necessary and hang your string of firecrackers!