Dragon Boat Festival
Also known as Double Fifth Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival will be celebrated on June 14 this year. The traditional holiday occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar and has been celebrated for over 2,000 years. While there are many tales as to why the festival is celebrated, some of the prominent ones revolve around the lives of Qu Yuan, Wu Zixu and Cao E. Despite having its origins in China, many countries around the world host their very own dragon boat competitions. Let’s find out more about the annual event.
History of the event
The fifth lunar month in the Chinese calendar is considered unlucky, especially the fifth day of that month as it is said that the day brings illnesses and disasters. To avoid bad luck, people keep calamus, garlic, pomegranate flowers, Chinese ixora and Artemisia above their doors to fight evil spirits. It is believed that poisonous creatures such as snakes, centipedes and scorpions appear and people start falling sick afterwards. To avoid this misfortune, people stick pictures of these venomous creatures and ceremonies are performed to get rid of the bad luck. Therefore, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to get rid of diseases and curses.
The most notable folklore is that of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). He was a patriotic poet who served as a cadet member in the state of Chu. The king decided to form an alliance with the state of Qin and Yuan opposed this decision. As a result, he was exiled and accused of treason. Yuan wrote poems about his love for his country while being away for more than 28 years. One day, he got to know that the state of Chu was occupied by Qin. The news broke his spirit and he decided to end his life by drowning himself in the Milou River. A lot of people rushed to the sea in their boats to save him or retrieve his body but their efforts went in vain. This is how dragon boat racing came into being. As a way to honour him for his sacrifice, people started beating drums and throwing rice dumplings as an offering to his spirit as well as a means to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body.
The event also pays tribute to Wu Zixu who died in 484 BC. King Goujian of the state of Yue sent a beautiful woman (Xi Shi) to the state of Wu. She was much loved by King Fuchai of Wu. Zixu thought there was a sinister plot behind the arrival of Shi and tried to warn the king. King Fuchai lost his cool when Zixu shared his thoughts with him. The king then forced him to commit suicide and his body was thrown in the river on the fifth day of the fifth month. In places such as Suzhou, Wu Zixu is remembered during the festival.
Northeastern Zhejiang pays homage to the memory of a young girl called Cao E (AD 130-144). Her father was a shaman who conducted local ceremonies. During one such ceremony, he accidentally fell into the Shun River. Cao E went into the river to search for her father. After five days, both Cao E and her father’s body washed up on the shores. A temple was built in her memory and the Shun River was renamed as Cao’e River to honour her.
How is it Celebrated?
Thousands of competitors and supporters from all over the world attend dragon boat races and take part in the festivities. Teams compete in these fast-paced races in boats that resemble a traditional Chinese dragon. The purpose is to row the boat as fast as possible and finish the race as winners. One of the team members sits in front and beats the drums to boost the morale of the team. The bright-coloured boats will surely catch your attention at once.
Zongzi is one of the most popular items eaten on the occasion. It is a type of rice dumpling that is made of sticky or gluttonous rice and is wrapped in bamboo leaves. Zongzi consists of many fillings such as egg yolk, lotus seeds, ham, red bean paste, rose, melon, date, chestnut and pork.
Jian dui is a fried cake that is made of wheat and rice flour. People believe that eating Jian diu will help in preventing excessive rainfall during the rainy season. Thin pancakes are made from flour and are fried so that it is crispy and radiant. It usually consists of shredded meat, green beans and mushrooms and is coated with sesame seeds on the outside.