All about the Dragon Boat Festival

In China, it’s time for the annual, traditional Dragon Boat festival. In Chinese this festival is called端午节 (Duānwǔ Jié). It falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year.

You will see people participate in Dragon Boat races. There will be vendors and restaurants selling rice dumplings. Many families will be  making their rice dumplings as well. You will also see calamus and wormwood plants that are put together like a mini bouquet for sale in the market, which will be hanged on the front door of each house. There is also a special drink for this festival called Realgar wine.

Here are some commonly used words about this festival:

Chinese pinyin English
端午节 Duānwǔ Jié Dragon Boat Festival
农历 nónglì the traditional Chinese lunar calendar
农历五月初五 nónglì wǔyuè chūwǔ the fifth day of the fifth lunar month
屈原 QūYuán the patriotic poet commemorated on the Dragon Boat Festival
纪念屈原 jìniàn QūYuán in commemoration of Qu Yuan
lóng Dragon
龙王 Lóngwáng the Dragon King
龙舟 lóngzhōu Dragon boat
龙舟赛 lóngzhōu sài Dragon Boat Race
划龙舟 huá lóngzhōu To row Dragon Boat
糯米 nuòmǐ glutinous rice
锣鼓 luógǔ gongs and drums
雄黄酒 xiónghuáng jiǔ Realgar wine
粽子 zòngzi rice dumpling, the rice balls that people make and eat on the Dragon Boat Festival
竹叶 zhúyè bamboo leaves
香包 xiāngbāo Sachets that children wear on Dragon Boat Festival
戴香包 dài xiāngbāo to wear a sachet
香囊 xiāngnáng fragrant bag
佩香囊 pèi xiāngnáng to wear fragrant bags
艾草 àicǎo wormwood
菖蒲 chāngpú Calamus (sweet flag)
挂菖蒲和艾草 guà chāngpú hé àicǎo to hang calamus and wormwood

History of 端午节 (Duānwǔ Jié) Dragon Boat Festival

屈原Qū Yuán (340 – 278 BC), is one of the most famous poets in Chinese history. He was a poet and statesman who lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China. When hearing that the state of Chu had been invaded by the Qin, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the patriot Qū Yuán became so emotional about it that he drowned himself in a river. As the local folks found out about his drowning, they rushed to the river, paddled out in their fishing boats and attempted to find his body. This attempt later turned into the tradition of dragon boat race.

The local folks failed to find his body. To keep evil spirits away and to prevent the fish from eating his body, they threw bamboo leaves filled with rice into the water, splashing the water with paddles, and beating on drums.

Customs of 端午节 (Duānwǔ Jié) Dragon Boat Festival

1. 挂菖蒲和艾草(guà chāngpú hé àicǎo) to hang calamus and wormwood

Before the Dragon Boat Festival, people usually clean their houses and hang菖蒲(chāngpú) calamus, a wetland plant, or艾草(àicǎo) wormwood  by their doors in order to keep mosquitoes and insects away, to clean the air, and to bring good luck to the household.

2. 佩香囊 (pèi xiāngnáng) to wear fragrant bags

For the same reason of avoiding contagious diseases and keeping away evil spirits, Chinese people also started sewing香囊 (xiāngnáng), fragrant bags made out of colorful silk and filled with perfume, herbs, incense or other fragrant substances. They wear these bags around their necks or tie them to their clothes as an ornament.

3. 喝雄黄酒 (hē xiónghuáng jiǔ) to drink realgar wine

It is customary to drink雄黄酒(xiónghuáng jiǔ) realgar wine during the Dragon Boat Festival. This is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented cereals mixed with powdered realgar, an arsenic mineral. Traditionally, the Chinese people believed that realgar was an effective antidote against mosquitoes, diseases, and evil spirits.

4. 吃粽子(chī zòngzi) to eat rice dumpling

When we talk about Chinese Festivals, of course, food cannot be missed. 粽子(zòngzi) Rice dumplings are the main culinary treat of the Dragon Boat Festival and are easily the most famous Chinese dessert. They consist of sticky rice mixed with sweet or salty fillings. It`s wrapped in竹叶 (zhúyè) bamboo leaves, shaped like triangles or rectangles, tied with plant stems or silk cords, and boiled in water. The fillings range from meat and shrimp to red beans, fruit, and all sorts of other flavors. Yummy!

5. 龙舟赛 (lóngzhōu sài) or划龙舟 (huá lóngzhōu) Dragon Boat Race

Well, you might say this one was obvious given the name of the festival! One of the main features of the festival are the wooden boats that are shaped like dragons and appear in many vivid colors and decorations. The boats usually accommodate around 20 people who paddle together to the beating of a drummer sitting by the head of the dragon. Throughout the years, the龙舟赛(lóngzhōu sài) Dragon Boat Racing has gradually become an international sporting event. If you are in China, make sure you enjoy watching a beautiful dragon boat race. It will be an unforgettable experience of this colorful part of Chinese culture!

端午节快乐! (Duānwǔjié kuàilè!) Happy Dragon Boat Festival!