Dragon Boat Festival Holiday

Today is the official Chinese holiday, Dragon Boat Festival, known in Chinese as “Duanwu.”  Dragon Boat Festival Day falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month( it is also called the Double Fifth Holiday)  of the lunar new year, which started on February 14 (Chinese New Year) this year.  It has been celebrated for a long time, as what it commemorates happened during the Warring States Period in about 250 BC.  However it has only been a national holiday since 2008, when the government made it so.  “In May 2009, the Chinese government nominated the festival for inclusion in UNESCO’s global “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list, partly in response to South Korea’s successful nomination of the Dano festival in 2005 which China criticized as “cultural robbery”.” (from Wikipedia)

So, what is the story behind Dragon Boat Festival Day?  The day is for eating “zongzi,” or packets of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves (originally, now it looks like lotus leaves), racing large dragon boats teamed by many paddlers, and spending time with family. Further, here is what Wikipedia says about Dragon Boat Festival Day:

“Duanwu commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan.   He was a loyal minister serving the King of Chu during the Warring States Period in the third century BC. Initially his sovereign favored Qu Yuan, but over time, his wisdom and erudite ways antagonized other court officials. As a result Qu Yuan was accused of trumped-up charges of conspiracy and ejected by his sovereign. During his exile, Qu Yuan composed many poems to express his anger and sorrow towards his sovereign and people.

In the year 278 B.C., at the age of 37, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Milo River. He clasped a heavy stone to his chest and leaped into the water. Knowing that Qu Yuan was a righteous man, the people of Chu rushed to the river to try to save him. The people desperately searched the waters in their boats looking for Qu Yuan but were unsuccessful in their attempt to rescue him. Every year the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate this attempt at rescuing Qu Yuan.

When it was known that Qu Yuan had been lost forever, the local people began the tradition of throwing sacrificial cooked rice into the river for their lost hero. However, a local fisherman had a dream that Qu Yuan did not get any of the cooked rice that was thrown into the river in his honour. Instead the fish in the river were eating the rice. Thus, the locals decided to make zongzi to sink into the river in the hopes that it would reach Qu Yuan’s body. The following year, the tradition of wrapping the rice in bamboo leaves to make zongzi began.

A second version of the story holds that when it was known that Qu Yuan had been lost to the river, local fisherman dreamt that the fish in the river were eating Qu Yuan’s body. The local people developed the idea that if the fish in the river were not hungry, then they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. People thus began throwing zongzi into the river to feed the fish in hope that Qu Yuan’s body would be spared.

Yet another version of the story states that Qu Yuan ate the zongzi and rose to the heavens due to the the white rice being so light and that the more he ate the faster he rose, ultimately joining with the great god Buddha in the clouds (known as the yonguan song, or Floating Rice Man).”


We ate zongzi today that we bought on the street.  Two of the triangle-shaped-pyramids contained red bean curd, another plain rice, and another brown rice.  They tasted good.

Inside Red Bean Curd zongzi

Dragon boat racing has evolved from the idea of using a dragon to scare away the fish from eating poor old Qu Yuan.  At first they used the paddles to slap the water and scare the fish away, but someone must have said, “It will be more fun to have teams and race each other…forget old Qu Yuan!”

The Chinese worked on Saturday and Sunday this past weekend so they could have Monday, Tuesday and today off!  The experts say this holiday comes after Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Holidays in popularity.  Tomb-Sweeping Day must come in fourth in Chinese holidays.

We certainly enjoyed the Dragon Boat Festival Holiday, as we got a day off from school in the middle of the week!


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