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.