Once upon a time a part-time resident of Oriental, Joe Cox, was pondering how to celebrate New Year's Eve in Oriental. He must have laughed out loud to himself when the idea came to him that a town named "Oriental" should celebrate New Year's Eve with a dragon like those used to celebrate "Chinese New Year".
Being a talented artist and very gifted man, Joe set about creating a dragon. This first dragon, donned by a a few stalwart revelers, ran around Oriental that New Year's Eve, running through homes, around the village, startling, surprising, and delighting. There are still some who remember that first dragon. It's been more than forty years and that first dragon has been lost to history. But, thanks to a deep and abiding sense of whimsy, dragons have come to be a part of everyday life in Oriental.
We still celebrate New Year's Eve with the "Running of the Dragon". Every New Year's Eve since Joe Cox first created the idea, a dragon has emerged from the shed on Hodges Street that Joe first built his dragon in. Unfortunately, Joe passed away some years ago, but the homeowners who have since owned the "shed" have been very accommodating in allowing the tradition to continue.
Every New Year's Eve for all these years, at the hours of 8 PM and 11 PM the dragon has emerged from the shed to walk among us. It is also tradition that everyone makes as much noise as possible, beating pots with metal spoons, banging drums, blowing whistles and horns. All this chaos is intended, as with Chinese New Year, to frighten evil spirits away from the new year. It is also considered very good luck to touch the dragon as it passes.
At 8 PM on December 31st, the dragon wanders, not exactly "running", down Hodges Street, past the Town Dock to the end of the block, then turns around and wanders back to the shed, to wait for the 11 PM "run", after which, the dragon will rest quietly until the next year. The "run", with the street full of people making all sorts of noise, takes about twenty minutes. Then, revelers still have time to retire to their various parties out and about the area, secure in the knowledge that they have done everything possible to convince the spirit of the dragon to keep their new year safe and secure.
The legend "thickens" a tad here...since Oriental was so welcoming to its first dragon, word got out among dragons that Oriental was a wonderful place to be. Now, wandering around town, you can see evidence that other dragons are here. The ultra secret Dragon Protection Society (DPS) oversees their nests and lairs, protecting them and making every effort to keep them safe from harm. There are now so many dragons, that adults are often seen helping children with arithmetic by having them count the different dragons they see as they wander around town.
One very dazzling dragon has even set up housekeeping in the Duck Pond near the harbor. Of course, we do have ducks sometimes, but here it's more of a "Dragon Pond". Luckily, the dragons that make Oriental home, are benevolent and kind. The one by the harbor is often seen allowing a Great Blue Heron to sit on its head to get a better view of the fish in the pond.
For many years local resident Grace Evans was the Keeper of the Dragon. She saw to our New Years dragon's every need and was active in soliciting other dragons to come to town. Grace was awarded a plaque of thanks for all her attentions to our dragons. Now, others have taken up the mantle to take care of these creatures and the whole town watches out for them.
So, if you see a dragon's nest, with a dragonlette emerging...shhhhhh!