Celebrate the Lunar New Year with your own lantern creation!
While I was researching Lunar New Year celebrations I was particularly taken with the Lantern Festival that officially ends the Lunar New Year. Not only because it is for children, but also because it involves glowing lights at night. Who doesn’t love that?
Traditionally, children carried simple paper lanterns to the temple at night. Over the years this has evolved into parades with thousands of lanterns lighting up the night sky. You can buy all sorts of elaborate animal-shaped paper lanterns with blinking lights and even battery-operated music at your local Asian market. Or if you don’t happen to live in a city that has a big Chinese community, you can make your own to celebrate this happy holiday.
I decided to re-interpret the classic tissue paper candle jar into a Chinese lantern. This has probably been done before but I think it’s worth repeating here. It’s a simple, easy craft that I think children of all ages will enjoy.
First we rounded up some empty glass jars. Pickle jars, olive jars, peanut jars…I knew I was saving all those for a reason! Then I made a simple solution of white glue and water, using equal parts of each. I cut up a bowl full of one-inch squares of red tissue paper (the size isn’t that important, some people even prefer to tear their tissue pieces for a more organic feel) and set them aside.
After I had all the supplies ready, I handed my three-year-old daughter a wide paintbrush and let her go to town painting the sides of the jar with the glue solution. Then together we carefully (and not-so-carefully) pasted one layer of red tissue onto the jar. We covered the tissue with another coat of glue and set the jars aside to dry. In our dry climate this only took a few hours but if you live in a damp climate you might want to let them dry overnight. Whatever you do, don’t handle the jars while they are drying because the wet paper tears easily. Of course if anything gets too terribly messy it’s not a big deal since the tissue and glue can be soaked off in a jiffy.
The fun part of this project was the decorating. Gold is often used in Chinese culture to symbolize prosperity in the New Year so we layered on gold ribbons and chenille stems. I also created a funny little ox head for my daughter to make her small lantern into an ox lantern since it is the Year of the Ox.
If you can write in Chinese (or you can copy characters well, like my friend Bethany) you could even write “Happy New Year” in gold pen on top of the dry tissue or paint a fancy fish like the photo below. The fish is a common Chinese symbol of wealth and prosperity.
After we were done decorating, I created a handle for the lanterns using 20-gauge beading wire and wire cutters (to be used by a responsible adult only). This wire is pretty easy to bend and still sturdy enough to carry the weight of a glass jar. By creating a loop around the lip of the jar and then attaching a longer length to that loop, I was able to create a pretty sturdy handle. Make sure the wire is tight around the top though, because it will be a bummer if the jar slips out of the wire later and crashes to the ground taking the lit candle with it. Not that anything like that happened to us.
Cover your wire with ribbon if you like, add some tealight candles, and you’re ready for your very own Lantern Festival parade!
Since this is the year of the ox, I thought I’d make a fun little paper ox for you to print out and assemble at home. You can even just use the head portion to decorate an ox lamp like I did.
You can download a free pdf here.
Published January 22, 2009. Last updated February 7, 2018.