Traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

The Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, falls on June 20 this year. It is one of the oldest festivals, not only in China but also throughout the world, with a history of more than 2,000 years.

Poet Qu Yuan in a painting.
 Chinese Culture

The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a patriot poet during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), who committed suicide by flinging himself into the Miluo River in Central China’s Hunan province after his mother kingdom fell into enemy rule.

Legend holds that people in boats raced to the site where he drowned and threw in zongzi (glutinous rice wrapped in reed leaves) so fish wouldn’t feed on Qu’s body.

Since then, the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar is celebrated as the Dragon Boat Festival. People hold boat races and prepare zongzi in memory of Qu’s righteousness and his beautiful poems.

1. Eating Zongzi

Different varieties of zongzi tempt the palate.
 Chinese Culture

Also called glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves, zongzi is an essential Dragon Boat Festival food, but tastes vary between the north and south of China.

In the north people favor sweet zongzi and jujube is used as a filling, while in the south zongzi takes different shapes and various fillings, such as fresh meat, egg yolk, sweetened bean paste or ham.

2. Dragon boat racing

Competitors row a dragon boat during a race in East China’s Anhui Province.
 Chinese Culture

Dragon boat racing is an indispensable part of the festival with the boats so named because the fore and stern are in the shape of a Chinese dragon.

Legend has it that the race originates from the idea that people rowed boats to seek Qu Yuan’s body after he drowned.

3. Hanging auspicious leaves

People hang mugwort leaves and calamus on doors and windows to repel insects and moths.
 Chinese Culture

It is said that the fifth lunar month is considered a “poisonous” one in the Chinese farmer’s almanac because insects and pests are active and it is also high season for people catching infectious diseases.

During the Dragon Boat Festival people in southern China put mugwort leaves and calamus on the doors or windows to keep insects out of their homes. The leaves are believed to have curative properties.

4. Wearing scented sachets and five-color silk thread

A child with scented sachets.
 Chinese Culture

In the north, people believe that wearing scented sachets protects children from evil. The young decorate their clothes with small pouches made from colorful silk cloth with five-color silk thread.

Another custom is to tie thread around a child’s wrists, ankles and neck. Five-color thread holds special significance in China in that it is thought to contain magical and healing properties. Children are not permitted to speak while parents tie the thread for them, neither are they allowed to remove it until after the first summer rainfall when they throw the thread into the river. This is thought to protect them from plague and disease.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com    

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