Edgartown Library welcomes in the year of the water dragon

The dragon threaded its way around the library stacks. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

The annual dragon parade bumped and wound merrily through the aisles of the Edgartown Library children’s department on Saturday, as traditional Chinese music played from a boombox. Children made dragon masks to take home and snacked on fortune cookies to welcome the year 4709 in the Chinese calendar, the Year of the Water Dragon.

Deborah MacInnis, children’s librarian at the Edgartown Library since 1978, says the library has been celebrating Chinese New Year for about two decades. That’s almost long enough to see parents who once gathered downstairs for the dragon parade, now bringing children of their own to the celebration.

Ms. MacInnis, who’s known to many of her friends as the dragon lady, admits to a special affection for this holiday: “I’ve always liked Chinese art,” she said. “I like fantasy literature. And the more fantasy I read, the more I realized that European dragons are just obnoxious. They’re nasty and mean, they burn things down, they eat princesses and steal gold.

“Chinese dragons don’t do any of that. They do cause earthquakes on occasion, because they sleep inside the mountains, and if they roll over, that’s an earthquake. But Chinese dragons are basically celestial beings who do their own thing.”

The Chinese calendar runs on a cycle of 12 years, each with its own animal. Last year was the Year of the Rabbit; next year will be the Year of the Snake.

The Year of the Water Dragon comes around only once every five cycles, or 60 years, according to Ms. MacInnis. “They’re the most powerful dragons, and also the easiest to get along with,” she said. “Dragons do think they’re king, of course, so dragon people can be very strong-willed.”

Ms. MacInnis, who was born in the Year of the Ox, admitted, “yes, those are fairly strong-willed in their own right.”

The Chinese New Year is a celebration that began on January 23 and lasts for 15 days. “If you were Chinese,” Ms. MacInnis said, “there would be different things you’d do on different days. You clean house, top to bottom. You get new clothes. Children get red envelopes with money in them. When they have the dragon parade in Chinatown, you see people feeding the dragons cabbages, which is a sort of slang for money. And there’s lots of fireworks, because fireworks chase away evil spirits.”

Chinese New Year is one of several cultural festivals that are occasions for children’s programs each year at the Edgartown Library. “Celebrations of all kinds are a great thing,” Ms. MacInnis said, “and if we celebrate everybody’s cultures, nobody gets excited. You can do a Christmas celebration if you also celebrate Hanukkah and Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras and the Mexican Day of the Dead.”

Nis Kildegaard, a regular contributor to the Times, is the reference librarian at the Edgartown Library.