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January 3, 2012
It may have been the year of the Rabbit on some calendars, but for the citizens of Oriental and Pamlico County, 2011 was the year of The Flood – as in Hurricane Irene. Saturday night, hundreds of visitors gathered on Oriental’s waterfront to escort the old year out and welcome 2012 in. Entertaining the crowd were a giant dragon, a dancing dragon and a 4 1/2-foot Croaker lowered from a sailboat mast. Pots and woks were banged, kimonos paraded, hand cannons fired and dogs the village over decided whether to join or flee. For those seeking a better year ahead, there was no need to look farther than Hodges Street.Touch that dragon! Two dragons took part in the festivities. Here, the excited crowd presses in to touch the 8p dragon. It is said that touching the early dragon brings luck. This year, folks seemed especially motivated to get a feel of dragon tusk – or scale, tail, or whisker….One reason folks wanted to touch the dragon for good luck. This is how the New Years Eve parade route looked on August 27, 2011, just before the eye of Hurricane Irene passed over Oriental. Just over 4 months later, the streets were filled with hundreds of people welcoming in a fresh – hopefully hurricane free – 2012.A little Saturday night magic. Nothing like a touch o’ the dragon’s tooth to ensure wealth, health, and fair weather in the year ahead – hopefully.
Saturday’s festivities began with the 8p dragon run. This was for the Oriental-built dragon, the one large enough to make dozens of volunteers and well wishers disappear under its fabric flanks. From its lair under the Coldwell Bankers building, it ambled past the Inland Waterway Provision Company, down Hodges Street and past the Bean coffee shop. After a rigid turn (it takes a lot to change the course of dragon that’s being carried by dozens of folks that decide, at the last second, it would be fun to carry one) it retraced its route to its block-and-lattice staging area.
Occasionally, this overly public exposure has come at the dragon’s expense. Lore has it that touching the dragon brings good luck in the year ahead. While most well-wishers left it that, an occasionally over-ardent encounter left the dragon damaged. This year, though, the crowd treated the creature gently. While the dragon did loose one of its top right teeth en route, the missing member was returned shortly after the parade ended.
This cheered Susan and Perry Cheatham who organized this year’s run. Though Perry estimates the dragon made its way through a crowd of “about 800 people”, he said folks treated the dragon well, adding it was great to see the dragon, “live to dance another year.”Ronnie Kennamer holds the dragon’s tail high. With him is Savannah Grunmeier and her grandmother JoAnn Hudson of New Bern. JoAnn says she lived in Oriental for over 30 years and “only missed two dragon runs since we came to Oriental in 1973.”Hard hat: running with dragons calls for lots of pot and pan noise. Here, Ruby Lochner and friend Neil show one way to stow a noisemaker.
Traditionally, Oriental’s New Years Eve celebration featured two dragon runs – an early one for the family crowd and a later one for folks that prefer their dragon experience closer to midnight. A single dragon served for both runs.
Saturday night, another tradition may have been started. A new, smaller dragon took over the 11:30p run.
Last year, Oriental resident Charlier Overcash organized the purchase of a Chinese dragon – this one built in China instead of the Sailing Capital of North Carolina. More agile than the larger dragon, it has appeared around the village at events such as dragon boat races and the Chinese New Year celebrations in February. This was the first year it participated in the New Year celebrations.Eric and the Dragon. Eric Kindle standing at the new dragon’s head moments before the beast took to Hodges Street.
Dancing dragon organizer Wendy Osserman, who helped organize Saturday night’s New Year run, says unlike the early dragon which is patted for good luck, this one is more of a performing dragon. She says,“Chinese tradition is to not touch the dragon because it would be bad luck since the dragon represented the emperor who was a god. The new Chinese-born dragon will be offended if people are touchy-feely, but he welcomes all who will parade with him as a guardian.”
The crowd seemed to respect the wishes. Though some in the crowd joked that touching the dragon could result in parts of the toucher’s body falling off, occasional contact was made without dismemberment.
Originally, the plan had been for the dragon to meander through the crowd, dance in front of the Town Dock then return to the staging area. As the planned performance was coming to a close, Eric Kindle, operating the dragon’s head, decided the crowd and dragon were having such a good time, the creature would linger. After more improvisational dance, the red creature wound its way out of the crowd and disappeared behind a Hodges Street home.Keep on dancing. The dragon picks up on the crowd’s vibe and stays for a little longer.Wendy Osserman leads the dragon away. Walking alongside is Charlie Overcash, who led the effort to bring a second dragon to Oriental.
Following the late dragon run, with only minutes remaining in 2011, an oversized illuminated Croaker appeared in the rigging of a sailboat tied to the Town Dock. Its descent would mark the final moments of the year.
Posted Tuesday January 3, 2012 by Bernie Harberts
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