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What is the Dragon Boat Festival?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

By Mei Yee

I know a lot of people have never heard of the Dragon Boat Festival and if they have, they don't know much about it. (Or at least 31 out of the 35 people I have asked had never heard of it).

Below are the answers to some of the questions I got asked.

First, when is it?

The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, (typically late May/early June on the Gregorian calendar). This year it is June 3rd. China normally has a 3-day public holiday for this festival. [Futrure dates: June 22nd, 2023; June 10th, 2024; May 31st, 2025]

Second, what is it?

Originally, the festival was regarded as a traditional medical and health festival. A time where everyone got together to fight off poisonous insects and disease (and to ward off evil). With the recent pandemic this year's festival has a renewed focus on health!

Third, what do you do during the festival?

  • As the name of the festival suggests, dragon boat racing! You can either participate or just watch! Dragon boat racing actually goes back over 2,000 years. And the boats can hold 30 to 60 people, depending on its size. While this is something people do worldwide, most people do not do it during the festival. I don't know the answer as to why.

  • Eating sticky rice dumplings! Or zongzi, is the traditional Dragon Boat Festival food. Zongzi can have sweet or savory fillings but traditionally contain; glutinous rice that is filled with meat and beans. They are then wrapped into triangles (or rectangles depending on where you live), within bamboo leaves. And then they are tied with colorful silk cords.

These are the two main things to do during the festival, but you can also:

  • Hang mugwort and calamus, their fragrance deters some insects. It is also said that hanging them can bring good luck to the family.

  • Drinking realgar wine. 'Drinking realgar wine drives diseases and evils away!', is the old saying. Which follows with the main purpose of the Dragon Boat Festival.

  • Wearing perfume pouches, this is something parents normally make for their children to help protect them from evil. They are normally silk bags filled with herbal medicine.

Is this something you and your family celebrate?


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