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Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Head on the front of a dragon boat on the water

Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and it has been celebrated for over 2000 years. This double five day is considered to be a lucky day. Dragon Boat Festival is one of the four top traditional Chinese festivals, along with the Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, and Mid-Autumn Festival.

In 2023, Dragon Boat Festival falls on June 22 and China will have three days of public holiday this year. The Dragon Boat Festival has two primary legends about its origin. First, it honors Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet, and politician who drowned in the Miluo River on that day. The legend tells of the great love the people had for Qu Yuan. The people quickly paddled boats on the river to rescue him, beating drums to ward off evil spirits.

They threw zongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo, to keep the fish well-fed and away from Qu Yuan’s body. Celebrations today often include eating zongzi and holding dragon boat races. You can find a recipe for making zongzi here.

The second legend centers around the unlucky fifth lunar month, known as the month of poisons. During this month, poisonous creatures, such as centipedes, scorpions, snakes, toads, and spiders, emerge, enticed by the warming weather and seasonal fluctuations. Chinese families would hang wormwood and calamus by each door to repel the creatures. The people would also wear mugwort pouches because the strong odor would keep the pests away. These traditions continue as part of the holiday celebrations.

All over the world, people compete in Dragon Boat races, although the time of the race varies by location. Each long, narrow boat holds 10 to 20 rowers, including a steerer, and a drummer to mark the time. Many states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Florida, have races. You can find a list of communities with races here. Countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Taiwan also have yearly Dragon Boat races or festivals.

If you’d like to read a book about Dragon Boat Festival with your kids, try “Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival” by Tang Sanmu.

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