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The mystical land of China is a treasure chest of rich culture and ancient traditions. The Duanwu (China), Tuen Ng ( Hong Kong) or the Dragon Festival is one such tradition.
For centuries, this traditional festival has been celebrated and the tradition has been passed on for generations. The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Items. Need more reasons to experience this time-honored festival? Read on.
The Dragon Festival is an annual tradition of China that dates back to over 2,300 years. The festival dates are based on the lunar calendar and keep changing every year. This year the Dragon Festival will be celebrated from 9th to 11th June 2016. The tradition seems to have been born during the time of the warring states. Like any tradition so old, there are several stories surrounding the origin of this festival, the most popular one being the story of Qu Yuan.
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Qu Yuan was a patriotic poet who lived during the time of warring states in ancient China (328 299 BC). The legend says that this great poet also served as a wise and intellectual official under King Huai of Chu. Unfortunately, he was exiled by the King who was under the influence of corrupt ministers. While in exile, Qu Yuan wrote great poetry that expressed deep concerns about his state. His writings are considered as some of the greatest works of Chinese. Anxiety over the future of his beloved state had led him to a troubled health. In 278 BC, when he learnt of the capture of his state, he committed suicide by walking into the Miluo River holding a heavy rock on the fifth day of the fifth month.
Since Qu Yuan’s righteous demeanor had won many hearts, the villagers desperately tried to save Qu Yuan by beating drums and splashing water with their paddles, they also threw rice into the water both as a food offering to Qu Yuan's spirit and also to distract the fish away from his body.
However, one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that the rice meant for him was being seized by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to avert the dragon. This traditional food has ever since been known as ‘Zongzi ‘or sticky rice wrapped in leaves.
Dragon Boat Festival Traditions & Customs:
Dragon Boat Racing
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Several places in China hold Dragon Boat races to commemorate this attempt of saving Qu Yuan. The dragon boats were traditionally made with teak wood in the southern province of China and painted like a Dragon. Today, The Chinese Dragon Boat racing is popular sport across south east Asian nations like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan as well as U.S., Europe, Canada and many more. For these boat races, the participants are divided into teams one team works on oars as fast as they can to get to the finishing point and one team member sits at the front beating drums so as to keep the morale of the team high at all times.
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Zongzi is pyramid shaped sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It can also be made with different fillings and in different shapes. The fillings also vary across the various provinces in China. Generally the Zongzi is prepeared one day in advance.
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Wearing a Perfume Pouch
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According to folklore, perfume keeps evil at bay and protets the person wearing it.
On the day of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, children dress up and wear colorful silk perfumed pouches with five-colour threads that hold special significance as they are believed to contain magical and healing properties and the children are not allowed to remove it till a particular time or till the monsoon passes. It is said to protect the children for diseases.
Door hangings made of Chinese Mugwort and Calamus to Discourage Diseases
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Since this festival usually takes place in Summer when there is a lot more exposure to disease causing germs and bacterias, the chinese mugwort and clamus are hung on the door. They have insecticidal and slight antifungal properties and aroma that deters mosquitoes, flies and other insects.
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Even today, the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated with ultimate vigour and zeal and the celebration has spread across the world. The Dragon Boat holidays are usually 3 days, this year the holidays will be from June 9th to 11th, making it a long weekend. Grab this golden opportunity to explore one of the most ancient traditions around the world and while you are at it, you can experience the truly magical lands of south east Asia combined with the Dragon Boat Holiday experience.
You may also like to read about these festivals around the world: