The Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival has been celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month for millennia. The celebrations last for three days. In the Gregorian calendar, it varies every year, generally falling in June. In 2020, the Dragon Boat festival falls on June 25th and festivities will continue through the 27th.
What is the Dragon Boat Festival?
Although there are many legends, most people believe the holiday to have come about to honor the famous poet and statesman, Qu Yuan. During the time of Warring States (around 278 B.C.), Qu Yuan wrote a poem in honor and remembrance of the old King. The new King was angered, and ordered him into exile. Because he loved his country so much, he chose to take his own life rather than be exiled from his country. Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River with a heavy stone attached to his body to drown himself. He was very popular and beloved, so when people learned what he had done, they tried to rescue him. They chased his body down the river in boats, beating drums to scare away the fish and throwing rice into the river so that the fish would not eat his body. Today’s celebrations honor that attempt to save him. In Taiwan, the day is also known as “Poet’s Day” in honor of Qu Yuan.
How is the Dragon Boat Festival celebrated?
The most obvious part of the celebration are the dragon boat races. A dragon boat is a huge war canoe traditionally made from teak that has a dragon’s head carved into the bow and a dragon’s tail carved at the stern. The boats can range up to 100 feet in length and seat anywhere from 20 to 80 paddlers, varying in size. In a regular racing boat, a drummer/commander sits mid-boat and keeps the time of the oar strokes on a huge drum in order to encourage his teammates and guide them to row at the same pace; the paddlers try their best to row the dragon boat, at the end of the boat, there is a steersman controlling the direction. A sacred ritual is held before each race when the eyes are painted on, which is said to “bring the boat to life.” These boats with their drummers represent the people chasing Qu Yuan’s body down the river.
The second most important part of celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival is eating Zongzi (粽子). These are a popular sticky rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves. The contents of the zongzi vary by region. This tradition stems from the rice that was thrown into the river to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body. The rice was wrapped into dumplings so that it would sink to the bottom of the river. They are often given out as small gifts during the festival.
Today, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated all over the world. While the largest celebrations can be found in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, there are races all over Asia, as well as in Boston, New York, London, etc…
Do you want to learn more about the Dragon Boat Festival? Check out this more detailed post about the Dragon Boat Festival.