5 Chinese Dragon Boat Festival Traditions

Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month–which this year is on June 3, 2022.

How do Chinese people celebrate Dragon Boat Festival? What are some Dragon Boat Festival traditions?

Dragon Boat Festival: 端午节 Duānwǔ jié

5 Dragon Boat Festival Traditions

1. Watch Boat Races

Dragons might not be real, but for Dragon Boat Festival you can still watch the fierce bodies of dragons speeding through the water…powered by rowing teams! Dragon Boat festival racing is a popular sport celebrated on this holiday all around the world. Teams of amateur and professional rowers race brightly colored dragon-shaped boats. This tradition originated in southern China, where the dragon was especially honored.

Racers also complete a tradition called “eye dotting” by painting the pupils on the eyes of the dragon boats. It’s said that painting the pupils in the eyes actually awakens the dragons!

2. Make and Eat Zongzi

粽子 Zòngzi is the official food of the Dragon Boat Festival. The ingredients are sticky flavored rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. These delicious dumplings come in many different flavors such as red bean, dates, or meat.

They’re also known as rice dumplings or “Chinese tamales!”

3. Flirt in Yunnan

In Yunnan, the Dai people (pop. 1.2 mil) have their own unique customs to celebrate the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Traditionally, the Dragon Boat Festival is called the “Zong Bao Festival,” and is a time for new love to blossom among young lovers.

Single men and women wear their finest clothes and fill the air with love songs. Young men will send gifts to the young women they fancy, and if a spark is there, true love can begin to bloom.

Even if you are not a Dai person, could this June be the season of your own new love?

4. Remember Qu Yuan

Today’s Dragon Boat festival is the sum of many individual traditions of different people groups across China. Together, these various traditions and stories added up into the holiday we know today. One of the most famous stories is about Qu Yuan, a patriot and poet who lived in the Warring States Period. When his home state of Chu collapsed, he committed suicide in the Miluo river out of despair on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Distraught, locals and friends paddled boats throughout the river searching for his body. The legend says that they also threw rice into the water to stop the fish from eating Qu Yuan–the origin of today’s zongzi dumplings.

5. Wear Lucky Perfume Pouches

The fifth lunar month is said to be unlucky–disaster, plagues, insects, and pests all are dangers during this time. To keep safe, Chinese would traditionally wear small pouches of fragrant spices around their belts or necks. These small hand-sewn bags contain incenses such as calamus, wormwood, realgar, and other spices.

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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