This festival is a traditional event that is celebrated in China on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese calendar. Using the Gregorian calendar, the dates may vary every year since unlike it, the Chinese calendar is lunisolar. It’s considered a public holiday, so schools and offices are closed.
The name “Dragon Boat Festival” is the English translated name of the festival, and its other name is “Double Fifth Festival”. In Mandarin Chinese, the festival is called Duanwu, which loosely translates to “first horse”. In some cases, it’s said to translate to the number five meaning it’s the festival on the fifth day of the fifth month. In the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, the festival is known as “Tuan Wu chieh”. In Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, and Malaysia it is referred to as “Tuen Ng Jit”
Why Do Chinese Celebrate Dragon Boat Festival?
The Dragon boat festival is surrounded by very many superstitions that led to why people celebrate it. For most people, the celebration is in commemoration of Qu Yuan. He was a famous scholar and loyal minister to the King of Chu in the third century BCE. Aggravated by his wisdom and intelligence, the other court officials falsely accused Qu, leading to his exile. It was said he wrote many poems to express his anger and sorrow, before strapping on a rock to his chest and drowning himself in the Miluo River. The local people of the Chu, who believed he was an honorable man, went on their boats in search of him in the river. Unable to find him, they began the tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival to commemorate the attempt of saving him every year. During this time the locals would throw rice dumplings into the river as a sacrifice to Qu Yuan’s spirit and also as a way of keeping the fish and evil spirits away from his body.
Another common belief behind why people celebrate this festival is that it was a commemoration to Wu Zixu instead. Wu Zixu died when King Fuchai of Wu forced him to commit. This was after he warned him against Xi Shi, a beautiful woman Fuachi loved dearly. Xi Shi was sent by King Goujian of Yue, which was why Wu Zixu was weary having understood Goujian’s plot. Wu Zixu’s body was thrown in the river on the fifth day of the fifth month, and since then places like Suzhou commemorate him during the Dragon Boat Festival.
In places like Ningbo and Zhoushan, they celebrate the festival to commemorate a girl called Cao E. Cao E was said to have drowned in the river in filial piety act to search for her father Cao Xu, who had accidentally drowned in the same river. It is said that she searched for him for three days. The locals found both her father’s and her body in the river after five days. In the following years, a temple was built in her honor in Shangyu and the Shun river was renamed Cao’e river.
Another common old superstition that is attached to the festival, is the idea that the fifth of the fifth month was a bad day of bad luck. On this day it was believed that poisonous animals would appear and people would easily fall ill. To avoid bad luck, during the festival, people would hang calamus and wormwood on their doors to ward off illness and evil spirits. They would also stick pictures of the five most poisonous creatures and pin them with needles. Some would make paper cuttings of the creatures and tie them on their children’s wrists, to get rid of the bad luck and diseases.
Some believed that the festival was a way of worshipping the dragon lord. In which case, the throwing of rice in water was seen as a sacrificial offering. The boat races symbolized the yang energy associated with the dragon lord.
There are therefore varied reasons why people celebrate the festival. It depends on the area in different areas, although the majority are said to do it in commemoration of Qu Yuan’s death.
What Is the Dragon Boat Festival in China?
The Dragon boat festival is an annual event that happens in various parts of China, popularly in Hong Kong. The event happens every fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese calendar. It is considered a public holiday in China.
The common reason behind celebrating the event is to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a former minister in the third century and a Chinese poet. He is considered a national hero and is celebrated for his patriotism and great contribution to classical poetry. In some places, however, the reason for celebrating the festival may differ.
Today, the festivals involve Dragon boat races in which thousands of competitors take part in. The canoes used are shaped like Chinese dragons and painted in vibrant war colors. Each team is expected to steer the boat while one member beats a drum to keep up the morale and pace. The first team to win is considered to be lucky throughout the remaining year.
Other practices associated with the festival include the wearing of incense bags, believed to protect the wearer from bad luck, illness, and evil spirits. There is also the hanging of calamus and wormwood on the doors and windows, also believed to ward off evil spirits and poisonous creatures as well as, bring good fortune and health. You will also get to enjoy some of China’s special cuisine that’s associated with the festival, like Zongzi, fried cake, and thin pancakes.
How Long Does the Dragon Boat Festival Last?
The Dragon boat festival is one of the most important festivals in China aside from the Mid-Autumn Festival and Spring Festival. It is a public holiday that lasts for three days.
During the three days, you can take part or watch the dragon boat race which is the main event of the festival. You could also indulge in the delicious cuisine associated with the festival. There are also certain practices you can take part in like wearing an incense pouch for good luck.
Since it’s a three-day long holiday, a lot of the Chinese may take this time to travel. You may therefore find a lot of tourist sites parked, hotels fully booked or air tickets sold out. So, if you’re planning on attending the festival, the key is to plan and book everything early enough.
What Countries Celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?
The three-day dragon boat festival is originally a Chinese traditional event and among the three most important festivals. It’s celebrated across the country with varying activities although the most common ones are eating Zongzi and holding dragon boat races. Due to immigration, this festival was introduced in places like the US, Europe, Canada, Germany, and Singapore. These places celebrate the festival in the same way as China, through dragon boat races and special cuisine.
Japan also celebrates the Dragon boat festival ever since the Heian period (794-1185). It was originally known as Tango no Sekku and was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month. Today it’s called the Children’s day, every May 5 where they eat special food resembling Zongzi, called Kashiwa-mochi. To them, the festival is celebrated to wish that their children grow healthy and strong. Instead of hanging calamus, they drink calamus wine and instead hang “koinobori” (carp-shaped windsocks), that blow in the wind as a sign of hope.
South Korea also celebrates this festival, although to them it’s called the Gangneung Danoje Festival. Unlike in China, the festival lasts for 20 days in South Korea, culminating on the fifth day of the fifth month. That is when the Dano falls. The celebration is characterized by activities like the throwing of pots to help pray for happiness, good harvest, and health.
What Food Is Eaten on the Dragon Boat Festival?
As mentioned, the dragon boat festival is associated with various special Chinese cuisine. Some of the food like the Zongzi has a strong association with the meaning behind the festival and why it is celebrated. The following is a list of all the foods associated with the dragon boat festival:
This is the main food associated with the Dragon boat festival. It is a rice dumpling made with sticky rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves. It dates back to the 3rd century when people would throw Zongzi into the river during the festival. It was to feed the fish so they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.
It’s a type of cake made from sticky rice and mugwort, then dipped in sugar or honey. It’s a popular local dragon boat festival cuisine among the Yanbian in Jilin Province, China.
It’s a type of fried ball (or cake) made either with sticky rice flour or wheat flour with sesame seeds on top. It’s believed that eating Jiandui can stop the rain. According to folklore, the rainy season that happens before the festival is due to the holes in heaven. The jiandui balls being glutinous can fill up these holes and stop the rain. The Fujian province is known to eat Jiandui during the festival.
- Tea eggs
This food is prepared by boiling eggs in tea. In Jiangxi province, they use chicken eggs. In other areas, they use goose or duck eggs. After fully cooking the egg, some paint the shells in red, put them in a net bag, and hang them around their children’s neck. It’s believed that doing this will help to ward off bad luck.
- Ricefield Eel
The most tender and nutritious food associated with the festival is the eel cooked with tofu and mushrooms and served in a rice field. It is an important food during the festival in the southern parts of China.
- Garlic eggs.
These are boiled eggs with garlic that are eaten for breakfast during the festival. It’s believed that the garlic in the eggs wards off evil spirits and bad luck.
- Realgar Wine.
This is a popular drink that has been had during the dragon boat festival for many generations. Children’s cheeks and foreheads are also rubbed with the wine. This is done to get rid of illness, evil spirits, and bad fortune. Not a lot of people, however, like the wine.
These thin pancakes are filled with fillings like fried eggs, meat, mushrooms, and Chinese chives. It’s a common delicacy in Wenzhou during the festivals.
The Dragon Boat Festival is an important event in China that dates far back. People come from far and wide to participate. They indulge in the cuisine and traditions as well as watch the infamous dragon boat race. Many other countries including the US also celebrate the festival today.