The 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month (usually falls in June) is the traditional Dragon Boat Festival in China. This festival has existed for more than 2,000 years and is considered one of the most principle celebrations in China every year. Because the country is so large and there are many nationalities, the traditions of the Dragon Boat Festival vary from place to place and region to region.
Still, there are some main activities held constant every Dragon Boat Festival: the return of each family’s daughters, the hanging of the portrait of Zhong Kui (a guardian who exorcises ghosts and evil spirits), the welcoming of the ghost boat, the hanging up of calamus (a kind of palm) and Chinese mugwort, dragon boat racing, competitions in martial arts skills, swinging, drinking realgar or calamus wine, and more. Of course, no festival would be complete without enjoying some wudu pie, salted eggs, zong zi (pyramid-shaped balls of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves), and fresh vegetables.
So popular has this festival become that some of the activities have been adapted for abroad. For example, dragon boat racing is now an international diversion and competition.
Customs of the Dragon Boat Festival
1. Dragon boat racing
Dragon boat racing is the utmost main activity in the Dragon Boat Festival. It is said that in ancient time, a famous minister named Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. The people were incredibly saddened about his death and so they rowed their boats to rescue him.
Dragon Boat Racing
They tried their best to catch up with the revered minister, but when they reached Dongting Lake, Qu Yuan's body could no longer be found. This is said to be the origins of the dragon boat racing activity. Yet depending on the location and region of China, the tales and legends about the beginnings of dragon boat racing are different.
To this day, the racing of dragon-designed boats is very popular in areas near to rivers, lakes, or seas.
2. Eating Zong zi
Zong zi, a beloved snack in China, is a kind of pyramid-shaped ball of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. It is also commonly called jiao shu or tong shu. Eating zong zi during the Dragon Boat Festival is an age old tradition in China.
Eating Zong zi
These days, every Chinese family makes zong zi for the Dragon Boat Festival. There are many kinds of zong zi, filled with delights such as jujube, ham, bean paste, pork, and so on. It is regarded that the most outstanding versions of zong zi can be found in Jiaxing of Zhejiang Province. Zong zi is not only popular in China, but it has also spread to Korea, Japan, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
3. Hanging calamus and Chinese mugwort
Hanging calamus, the aromatic underground stem of the sweet flag herb, and Chinese mugwort is an important activity during the Dragon Boat Festival. The 2 elements are said to be effective in warding off disease, doing among other things keeping insects away and purifying the air. This is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.