Dragon Boat Festival and its traditions

(People's Daily Online) 14:23, June 21, 2023

The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese festival which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. It is known as one of the Four Traditional Chinese Festivals, together with Spring Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, and Mid-Autumn Festival. Dragon Boat Festival is famous around the world, and some countries and regions outside of China also celebrate it. Since 2008, Dragon Boat Festival has been listed as a national holiday. In September 2009, the festival became the first Chinese festival to be included in the representative list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Dragon Boat Festival was originally a festival in which ancient ancestors sacrificed to the dragon god in the form of dragon boat racing. Its origin covers ancient astrology culture, humanistic philosophy and other aspects. According to legend, during the Warring States period, Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet of the state of Chu, committed suicide by jumping into a river on this day. As a result, people also used the Dragon Boat Festival as a festival to commemorate Qu. As a traditional Chinese festival, the Dragon Boat Festival has many famous traditional folk customs, enjoying an excellent reputation both at home and abroad.


Contestants participate in a dragon boat race in Huadi village, Putian, southeast China's Fujian Province. (Photo/Cai Hao)

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon-boat racing is an essential activity during the Dragon Boat Festival. It was prevalent in the States of Wu, Yue and Chu in ancient times, and it remains prevalent in the southern coastal areas of China today. As early as 7,000 years ago, ancient inhabitants constructed canoes by hollowing out logs and used wooden paddles to maneuver themselves on the water. Dragon boat races are generally held after a grand sacrificial ceremony, where people worship and make sacrifices to the dragon god. In the past, the atmosphere of the celebration was quite serious. People prayed for blessings, good weather and future luck. In some places, there are also dragon boating rituals to worship Qu Yuan.

Hang mugwort and Calamus

It has been a long-standing custom that during the Dragon Boat Festival, people arrange various plants to dispel pathogens and disease. Hanging mugwort and Calamus is an integral part of the Dragon Boat Festival. Ancient books recorded that people should "gather mugwort and hang it on the door with the purpose to dispel poison," as mugwort is an important medicinal plant. Because of its unique fragrance, people use it to ward off mosquitoes. Moreover, thanks to its medicinal function, mugwort is also said to be capable of warding off evil spirits. Mugwort grows best during the month of May, hence why it is so common during the festival. People often gather mugwort and hang it in front of their homes.

Wear a sachet

Wearing a sachet is one of the traditional customs of the Dragon Boat Festival. Sachets are usually made of five-color silk thread, or colored satin or cloth wrapped with cotton and then embroidered with colored silk. People typically filled the sachets with a variety of fragrant herbal medicine to repel insects and avoid illnesses. Children wear sachets to ward off evil spirits during the Dragon Boat Festival. Nowadays, sachets come in various shapes and are a common handicraft. In some cities in southern China, young men and women also use sachets to express their love.


Villagers make colorful Zongzi, pyramid-shaped dumplings made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, to greet the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, May 25, 2022. (Photo: China News Service/Qin Qinghe)


Zongzi is a traditional festival food in China. Zongzi, which is made by steaming glutinous rice wrapped in loquat leaves, can come in many different shapes and varieties. Due to the different flavors in different parts of China, Zongzi can be sweet or salty. Zongzi was initially used to worship ancestors and gods, but later, in the Jin dynasty, Zongzi became a festival food. Eating Zongzi during Dragon Boat Festival has been a custom for thousands of years in China. As one of the most profound traditional foods with Chinese history and culture, Zongzi has also spread to Korea, Japan, and southeast Asian countries.

Realgar wine

Drinking realgar wine in the Dragon Boat Festival period is a prevalent custom in the Yangtze River basin area. Realgar wine is a kind of liquor or yellow wine made by soaking realgar powder. As a kind of traditional Chinese medicine, realgar can be used as an antidote and insecticide, so ancient people thought realgar could ward off snakes, scorpions, and other harmful insects and animals. There is an old saying that goes: "drink realgar wine and keep diseases away". The main ingredient of realgar is arsenic sulfide, which is poisonous. Therefore, people only add a small amount of realgar in wine, and it needs to be exposed to sunlight, sometimes from the first day of May to the fifth. Realgar wine is one of the "five yellow" dishes which are traditionally served during the Dragon Boat Festival in Jiangsu and Zhejiang area. The other four are yellow croaker, cucumber, eel and duck egg yolk, with each containing the Chinese character Huang (meaning yellow) in its name.

(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Wu Chengliang)


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