Traditional Festival: Dragon Boat Festival 端午节
The Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 [duān wǔ jié] is a traditional Chinese festival that happens near the summer solstice 夏至 [xià zhì]. As the festival is celebrated every year on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional Chinese calendar, it is also known as the Double Fifth Festival. In other Chinese communities, it is also called the Dumpling Festival.
Origin of the Festival
One of the best known origins of this festival occurred 2,000 years ago. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates 纪念 [jì niàn] the death of Qu Yuan 屈原 [qū yuán], a poet 诗人 [shī rén] and minister of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty.
Qu Yuan was banished from the kingdom when he opposed the alliance between his King and the dominating state of Qin. He was even accused of treason.
During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a lot of poetry that expressed his love and concerns for his beloved kingdom. When he heard that his kingdom had been overtaken by the Qin, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Milou River 汨罗江 [mì luó jiāng] in despair.
It was believed that the local townspeople, who admired him, raced out in their boats in an attempt to save him or retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat races 龙舟竞赛 [lóng zhōu jìng sài].
When his body could not be found, the townspeople beat drums to scare the fish and even dropped sticky rice balls 米团 [mǐ tuán] into the water so that the fish would not eat Qu Yuan's body. This is the origin of the rice dumplings 粽子 [zòng zi] that Chinese people around the world eat.
Rice dumplings 粽子
Making and eating these traditional treats with family and friends are a big part of celebrating Dragon Boat Festival. Glutinous sticky rice 糯米 [nuò mǐ] is used, and is combined with a variety of fillings (which can be either sweet 甜粽 [tián zòng] or savory 咸粽 [xián zòng] ), wrapped up in bamboo leaves, and then steamed or boiled for several hours.
The fillings used for rice dumplings can be different from region to region. Some of the common fillings for savory style rice dumplings include salted duck egg, pork belly, shredded pork or chicken, shiitake mushrooms, black-eyed peas, mung beans, dried shrimps and dried chestnuts.
For the sweet style, red dates and bean paste are used as stuffing. Another one is the 碱水粽 meaning "alkaline water rice dumpling", which typically contains no filling and are eaten with sugar or light syrup.
Dragon Boat races
Asides from eating delicious rice dumplings, the other highlight of the festival is the racing of colourful fierce-looking dragon boats 龙舟 [lóng zhōu]. These special boats, measured more than 10 metres, have beautifully carved and painted dragon heads and tails on both ends. Each boat carries a team of 20 - 22 paddlers, with a steersman at the back and a drummer at the front. Teams race to the finish line urged by the beat of heavy drums and the roar of the excitable crowds.
Today, dragon boat racing has become popular all over the world, including the USA, Canada, Australia and UK.