Paper Bag Lanterns

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Habitot has a long tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year, a holiday that commemorates the beginning of the (lunisolar) calendar year with the first new moon. This activity is inspired by a common decoration among many Lunar New Year celebrations – lanterns – which are symbols of joy and good fortune. Using common household items, you and your child will create a colorful paper bag lantern to decorate for the New Year. 

This year, Lunar New Year (the Year of the Dragon in Chinese culture) begins on February 10 and is celebrated through February 24. Happy New Year!

What We’re Learning & Skills We’re Building

  • Creativity – making individual choices about how to decorate a paper lantern
  • Cultural appreciation – learning about Lunar New Year and Chinese zodiacs
  • Fine motor skills – using the small muscles in the hands to grip a paintbrush and scissors
  • Measurement – using a ruler to find the appropriate length or width for materials


Optional Materials


Making a Paper Bag Lantern

  1. Cover all or part of the bag with color using paint, markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils. (Note: the bag might become flimsy and rip while the paint is wet. Let it dry for at least 1 hour.) 
  2. Once the paint is dry, place, glue, or tape decorations onto the painted bag such as stickers, washi tape, paper scraps, sequins, and/or biodegradable glitter.   
  3. (Optional) Use a hole punch to make holes in the bag where light will shine through. 
  4. (Optional) Create tassels (dangly strips of material) by taping long pieces of yarn or long strips of construction paper, crepe paper, and/or tissue paper to the bottom of the bag. 
  5. (Optional) Make a strap to hang the lantern by measuring and cutting a 12” piece of string, yarn, or ribbon. Use tape to attach each end to the edges of the bag’s opening.    
  6. (Optional) Place LED lights, battery-operated tea lights, or a small flashlight inside the lantern so it glows. (Note: Fire Risk: Only keep the lights on for a short period of time. Do not place other types of bulbs or real candles inside the paper lantern.) 
  7. Hang or place the lantern in your home to help celebrate the Lunar New Year!

Making Lanterns from Other Materials

Larger paper grocery bags can be made into bigger lanterns. Decorate them (using the same instructions you used for making smaller lanterns above), or fold and tape them into different shapes. Cylindrical (tube-shaped) lanterns can be made from clean toilet paper rolls and empty aluminum cans – you can close off one end of a toilet paper roll with thick paper and tape so a light can be placed inside. Learn how to make fun paper decorations for cylindrical lanterns from this video. For creating holes in an aluminum can lantern (adults only), watch this video.

More About Lunar New Year  

Lunar New Year is a holiday that marks the beginning of a new calendar year. The word “lunar” means “determined by the moon,” so this calendar is based on the moon’s cycles. The lunar cycle is about 12 years long. In China, each year of the 12-year cycle is named for and connected with an animal – this year, 2023, is the Year of the Rabbit! In English, we call this system the Chinese zodiac. Watch this video to learn about the Chinese zodiac story.

You can hear more about how the Lunar New Year is celebrated in different parts of the world here!