Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival
Celebrating Qu Yuan, an Honored Poet
June 18th kicks off the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival and Poet’s Day, which celebrates the famous Chinese Scholar, Qu Yuan over several days with lots of food, wine, and boat racing. Chinese legend tells of a Poet named Qu Yuan who lived over 2,000 years ago. The story goes that he was a loyal, intellectual, wise minister to the King of Chu. However, he was accused on false charges of conspiracy and thus exiled. While exiled, he began writing poems to express his feelings. Grief-stricken, he finally tied a heavy stone to his chest and jumped into the Milou River in 278 BCE. Loyal followers searched in boats on the river to find and save him. Desperately they searched but were unable to locate him.
The holiday has been around for centuries, but has only become a national public holiday ten years ago in 2008. Chinese people spend days celebrating Qu Yuan’s bravery, wisdom, and poetry. They believe he’s an honorable man. Every year people recreate the attempt to save him by racing dragon boats on the river in commemoration of him. Tradition dictates that rice is thrown for Qu Yuan and the fish in the river.
Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon-shaped boats are human-powered paddle boats that can be made of many different types of wood, but most traditionally out of teak. The boats are highly decorated and range from 40 to 100 feet in length. These “row” boats are manned by up to 80 rowers at a time which helps them move quickly and seamlessly through the river. The race begins after a ceremony is performed to give life to the boat; the first boat to capture the flag wins the race. Like legend tells, the faster the boat, the better the chance of finding Qu Yuan…speed is celebrated.
Feasting and Drinking
While the rice is typically used to throw into the river for Qu Yuan and the river fish, other yummy foods and drinks are eaten during the festivities. Sticky rice dumplings (zongi) are eaten in droves while people drink wine. Dumplings can be filled with fruits, meats, bean pastes, or egg yolk. The more dumplings, the merrier….just like the wine.
Celebrating in Your Home
Search local websites to see if there are any dragon boat races in your hometown; depending on where you live, there just might be some traditional festivities going on close to you. If not, there are sure to be videos that you and your family can circle around and watch. Make a game out of it, try to guess which boat will capture the flag first, or which boat is the most decorated while eating a bevy of yummy sticky rice dumplings and this month’s recipe showcase: Chinese Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce.
Maybe have your own race…start early (which is why we are showcasing this holiday a month early) and make your own miniature dragon boats…go to a local river or lake and race them yourselves. Make dumplings and spend the day playing near the water and having fun. Links to more information on dragon boats and recipes for zongi are located below.
There are countless ways to bring these holidays into your home; be creative and enjoy sharing cultures and holidays with one another. Be sure to send in photos and let us know how you and your family are celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival.
- Travel China Guide: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/dragon-boat.htm
- Travel China Guide: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/dragon-boat/zongzi.htm
- China Highlights: https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/dragon-boat-festival.htm
- China Highlights: https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/dragon-boat-racing.htm
- Time and Date: https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/china/dragon-boat-festival