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Dragon Boat Festival

Updated: Jul 21, 2017 Print

The Dragon Boat Festival falling on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is a traditional holiday originating in China. It is also known as many other names such as Duanwu, Duanyang, Fifth Day Festival, Double Fifth Festival, Fifth Month Festival, Yulan Festival, Daughter's Festival, Tianzhong Festival, Dila Festival, Poet's Festival, Dragon's Day and so on. Despite having so many names, many common activities are held across China to celebrate this festival.


The Chinese have celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival for over 2,000 years. Since China is a vast land with many ethnic groups and numerous stories and legends, this festival has been given many names and celebrated in different ways in different parts of China.

Festive activities

Dragon Boat Racing

The dragon boat racing during the Duanwu Festival, the lion dance during the Lantern Festival and the Dragon Heads-raising Day, which falls on the second day of the second lunar month, are important folk activities in some East Asian countries. Due to the dissemination of Chinese culture and the great number of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, these activities are also quite popular with the Chinese communities in countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

Hanging Mugwort

Duanwu is the first festival of summer. The rising temperature brings about a wave of diseases. Thus many years ago people would hang a few twigs of mugwort at their doors, believing that the special scent of mugwort could prevent disease, repel mosquitoes and exorcise evil spirits. 

Wearing Five-Colored Silk Thread

In traditional Chinese culture, the five colors of green, red, white, black and yellow are deemed auspicious colors because they are felt to correlate with the five directions and the five elements. On Duanwu Festival, children are supposed to wear five-colored silk thread around their wrists and ankles to promote health and well-being.

Picking Tea and Preparing Herbal Tea

People in some Northern Chinese regions have the custom of picking, steaming and airing tender leaves and wild herbs during the Dragon Boat Festival in order to make herbal tea. In the city of Chaozhou in China's Guangdong province, people often go to the countryside to pick herbal medicines which are decocted into an herbal tea that locals believe to be beneficial for their health.

Wearing a Fragrant Sachet

A fragrant sachet is also known as a scented bag or a perfume pouch. Some fragrant sachets are made with five-colored silk thread while others are sewn with rags, stuffed with herbal medicines like angelica root, Szechuan lovage, the root of large-flowered skullcap, Anisochilus carnosus and Kaempferia galangal. People often wear fragrant sachets on their chests during the Dragon Boat Festival. 

Hanging Mugwort Tiger

In the olden days, the evil-expelling objects used on the Dragon Boat Festival could also serve as wearable ornaments. The ancient Chinese people believed that the tiger was a divine beast that could subdue demons, ward off evil spirits and bring peace.

Festive food

The Chinese have the tradition of eating zongzi at the Dragon Boat Festival. Zongzi, also known as "jiaoshu" or "tongzong", has a long history and comes in many varieties. Zongzi has been a popular food in China for thousands of years and has spread to Korea, Japan and many Southeast Asian countries.

Apart from zongzi, yougao (literally, "deep-fried cake") is also a popular snack during the Dragon Boat Festival. To prepare this pastry, a piece of kneaded dough is filled with white sugar, osmanthus, rose, walnut kernels and lard, and then deep-fried in a frying pan. This appetizing snack is crispy on the outside and sweet on the inside. 

On the Dragon Boat Festival, people often mix mugwort and glutinous rice in a large tub that is hollowed out of a log. The mixture is then beaten with a long wooden stick in order to make rice cakes. Rice cakes are a culturally unique festive snack. 

In Jinjiang, Fujian province, every household enjoys eating jiandui during the Dragon Boat Festival. Jiandui is a type of fried pastry made from flour, glutinous rice flour or sweet potato starch mixed with other ingredients. According to legend, the monsoon that drenched the southern part of Fujian province before the Dragon Boat Festival was caused by a hole in the sky from which the rain would fall through. The rain stopped after people ate jiandui at the Dragon Boat Festival and thus they reasoned that they had "mended" the sky, hence the origin of this custom.



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