Also referred to as the Duanwu Festival, the Zhongxiao Festival, and the Double Fifth Festival, the annual Dragon Boat Festival is a highly significant celebration taking place in the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Celebrated this year on June 7, the Festival traditionally commemorates both fealty and filial piety. According to various stories, the fifth day of the fifth month was regarded as exceedingly unlucky prior to the Qin Dynasty, with the appearance of poisonous animals such as snakes, scorpions, and centipedes as well as an increased likelihood of illness. As people attempted to avoid/dispel the bad luck brought by the day, they developed auspicious ceremonies and performances that made the Dragon Boat Festival a day to avoid ill fortune.
Besides the great prosperity brought by the festival’s rituals, the best known legends also speak of the traditional story of Qu Yuan, a poet and high official in the state of Chu during the Zhou Dynasty. After being banished for his opposition to a proposed alliance, Qu wrote volumes of poetry expressing his patriotism and love for his nation. However, once the Qin captured the capital of Chu, Qu took his own life in the Miluo River. Locals who deeply admired him raced out in the river to save him, and it is this moment that is said to be the origin of the famous dragon boat races. Unable to retrieve Qu, the locals decided to drop balls of sticky rice into the river, tempting fish to eat the rice rather than Qu’s remains; another aspect of the lore which some believe to be the origin of the traditional festival food ‘zongzi’. Moreover, the Dragon Boat Festival has a variety of other traditions:such customs include hanging of Chinese mugwort and calamus to ward off bad luck, drinking realgar wine, eating sticky rice dumplings (the aforementioned zongzi), and of course, dragon boat racing.
The most important event during the Festival, the racing of dragon boats is an exhilarating experience. Wooden boats, shaped and decorated in the form of a Chinese dragon, are paddled in harmony by 30-60 people as drums beat in the background. Tradition says that the victorious team will have good luck and happiness in the following year.
To learn more about the Dragon Boat Festival, check out this video from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).