Dragon Buttons

In celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dragon in 2012, the Keep Homestead Museum mounted a special display of dragon buttons from Myra’s extensive button collection. They were incorporated within a larger exhibit of Oriental buttons in the main Button Room at the Keep Homestead Museum.

The Chinese Year of the Dragon began with the traditional New Year’s celebration on February 5th of our calendar year. This is the year 4698 on the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year changes each year to correspond to the lunar calendar.

Much celebration takes place: special foods, decorating the homes with red paper and setting off firecrackers are part of the traditions. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year Season. The “Year of the Dragon” continues until the next Chinese New Year, 4699.

There is an old legend, from the Han dynasty era, that said that a monster whose name was “Nian” visited a little village and scared everyone. Just by luck the villagers discovered that the monster himself had a couple of fears. He was afraid of the color red and even more afraid of scary loud noises. So the villagers scared the monster away by waving red banners and rattling noisemakers. The monster ran away and was never heard from again. And that is why the Chinese, at midnight, always use red ribbons and set off firecrackers to ward off any evil spirits lingering from the old year, and celebrate their new year.

The dragon buttons on display in Myra’s Button Room were manufactured at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. They are made of various materials such as brass, silver, wood, mother of pearl and sometimes are made from a combination of materials. There are also some outstanding enameled dragon buttons. According to folklore, Chinese dragons have five toes, Korean dragons have four toes, and Japanese dragons have three toes. Of course, throughout history there have been stories describing heroes hunting for dragons in other countries as well as those mentioned.

Written by Jacquie Hatton, 2000

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