Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Chinese Kick Off the Summer with the Annual Dragon Boat Festival

For many of us the arrival of June means the arrival of summer and Father’s Day is just around the corner, but in China the coming of June also means the arrival of the Dragon Boat Festival. The annual festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month according to the traditional Chinese calendar, which puts it at June 2nd this year. Over the years the holiday has acquired several names in addition to the Dragon Boat Festival, including (but not limited to) the Tuen Ng Festival, the Duanwu Festival, and the Double Fifth Festival. 

There are many traditions associated with the festival but the biggest one is found in the holiday’s name- dragon boat racing. Dragon boat racing is a team water sport rooted deeply in ancient folk rituals dating back over 2,000 years. Racing these boats began as a ceremonial and religious tradition but has since turned into a competitive sport. During competitions the boats are rigged with beautifully decorated Chinese dragon heads and tails, hence its name. 

Dragons and the summer solstice are thought to be connected by the belief in a common energy. The moon is typically associated with a feminine energy while the sun represents a masculine energy. At the summer solstice the sun is considered to be at it’s strongest, thus having the strongest masculine energy at that time. Like the sun, the Chinese dragon is also considered to possess masculine energy. So the use of the Chinese dragon in combination with the summer solstice symbolizes the yearly peak of male energy. 

And of course no Chinese holiday is complete without eating and drinking. The traditional food consumed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is zongzi, a Chinese dish made of rice, stuffed with various fillings, and then carefully wrapped in bamboo or reed. Then the zongzi is washed down with realgar wine

Other fun and unique activities to celebrate the special day include hanging up icons of a mythical guardian named Zhong Kui, hanging mugwort and calamus, taking long walks, and a game of trying to make an egg stand at exactly noon- if your efforts are met with success you are thought to have a year of good luck ahead of you. Like many Chinese traditions, these activities are performed in regards to the ancient villager’s beliefs that they would ward off disease and promote good health and spiritual well-being. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Japan's Golden Week Concludes with Children's Day

Japan’s exciting back-to-back national holiday celebrations, collectively known as Golden Week, comes to an end with Children’s Day on May 5th. Although it has only been designated a national public holiday since 1948, the holiday has been a huge part of Japanese culture and widely celebrated since ancient times, perhaps even all the way back to the reign of Empress Suiko in 593 A.D.! 

Traditionally, May 5th was known as Tango no Sekku and was dedicated to celebrating boys, while March 3rd was a festival for girls. It has since been changed so May 5th celebrates all children, both boys and girls.

Children’s Day is the perfect way to end Golden Week because of all the fun traditions and celebrations associated with the holiday. Carp-shaped streamers fly outside of countless houses of families with children and inside dolls of famous warriors are displayed
throughout the home. It is traditional for children to take baths sprinkled with iris and roots, since it’s believed that iris promotes good health and roots ward off evil spirits. And of course no Chinese holiday is complete without a traditional food! On May 5th families prepare and eat kashiwamochi, or rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves and filled with sweet bean-paste.

In addition to the traditional decorations and foods, this holiday also brings many exciting events. Each event is purposed to honor children as well as highlight their talents, promote their health, and to have some fun! Kyogen, a type of comic theater, has been around for 600 years and remains an important aspect of Children’s Day. It is performed wearing traditional costumes with very distinct styles of acting. One year, at the Yokohama Noh Theater, a kyogen recital was held featuring 18 actors between the ages of seven and thirteen. The kids had attended practices one or twice a week since the previous summer to learn the unique comic expressions, movements, and uses of the fan. The theater was packed with eager parents, teachers, friends, and family members to witness the showing of the impressive skills their children had practiced for almost a year. 

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