Dragon Boat Festival: what's the origin of this important celebration?


When we arrived in Hong Kong, many years ago, we were asked if we wanted to participate in the Dragon Boat Festival, but we didn't know what it was about at all and, in the end, politely declined.

Right after that moment, we began to inquire and discovered that this is a traditional Chinese holiday which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which is in late May or June on the Gregorian calendar. In 2024, Dragon Boat Festival falls on June 10 (Saturday). China will have 3 days of public holiday from Saturday (June 8) to Monday (June 10). Dragon Boat Festival is one of the four top traditional Chinese festivals, along with the Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, and Mid-Autumn Festival we have told you in the previous articles!

Many people think that Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet and minister known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry, who became a national hero.

However, Dragon Boat Festival actually came before the death of Qu Yuan. Its earliest origin is related to the fifth lunar month which was known to ancients as the 'month of poison'. During the early hot days of summer, people would easily fall ill, and epidemics spread. This made the month seem evil, so people in ancient times regarded it as an important time to prevent diseases and keep evil spirits away.

Therefore, Dragon Boat Festival was originally regarded as a traditional medical and health festival. It is traditionally a festival for people to (ceremonially) come against diseases and poisonous insects.

How to celebrate Dragon Boat properly? Dragon Boat Festival customs can be divided into two categories. One is to worship the god of dragon and heroes, such as Qu Yuan. The activities include dragon boat races and eating glutinous rice dumplings.

Where does the custom originate?

We said the Dragon Boat festival originated to celebrate Qu Yuan, romanticism founder and high-ranking politician, considered to be the first China poet. He lived during the late Warring State Period in China.

He was a noble man, always standing with common people and defending his state against invasions. He was exiled due to political persecution. During this period, he wrote the poem "Li Sao" expressing his deep concern for his State and its people.

After hearing of his country's defeat, he drowned himself in Miluo River. Local villagers searched for his body unsuccessfully so; to prevent fished from harming his body, they beat drums and threw rice lumps into the water as food for the fishes. This evolves into the custom of eating sticky rice dumplings and Dragon Boat racing to commemorate him.

Did you know that "Happy Dragon Boat Festival" (端午快乐 Duānwǔjié kuàilè) might not be an appropriate greeting, even though it sounds quite natural? (This is because of the solemn commemorative and evil-suppressing aspects of the day.)

"Safe and Healthy Dragon Boat Festival" (端午安康 Duānwǔjié ānkāng) is getting more popular as a greeting. 

Do you use to participate to Dragon Boat racing?


(thanks to China Highlights for historical and cultural info)



Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published