Everything you need to know for the Dragon Boat Festival 2017 + Chinese vocabulary list
端午节快乐 Duānwǔjié kuàilè! Happy Dragon Boat Festival!
The Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 Duānwǔjié) is a Chinese folk festival which takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, for 2017 that’s May 30th!.
It has been celebrated for over 2000 years and is one of the most important Chinese festivals alongside the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
In this blog article, we are going to show you what to do during the festival, talk about the different legends surrounding this festival and teach you the most important festival vocabulary!
- Customs or what to do during the Dragon Boat Festival
Well, you might say this one was obvious given the name of the festival! One of the main features of the festival are the wooden boats that are shaped as dragons and appear in many vivid colors and decorations. Although sizes and shapes differ tremendously throughout the regions, the boats usually accommodate around 20 people who paddle harmoniously to the beating of a drummer sitting by the head of the dragon.
Throughout the years, the Dragon Boat Racing (龙舟赛 lóngzhōu sài) has gradually become an international sporting event too. If you are in China, make sure you enjoy a beautiful dragon boat race of your own. It will be an unforgettable experience of the colorful Chinese culture!
But why do people race dragon boats during the festival? Find out in the next part below.
Eating Rice Balls (a.k.a. Zòngzi)
And when we talk about Chinese holidays, of course food cannot miss. Sticky rice dumplings (粽子zòngzi) are the main culinary protagonists of the Dragon Boat Festival and are easily the most famous Chinese dessert. The Zizzle team has even discovered them in Munich, Germany ;-).
They consist of sticky rice mixed with sweet or salty fillings. They are wrapped in bamboo leaves, shaped as triangles or rectangles, tied with plant stems or silk cords, and boiled in water. The fillings range from meat and shrimp to red beans, dates, fruit and all sorts of other flavors. Yummy! If reading this has made you really hungry, remember that the Chinese have “Eight Culinary Cuisines” with thousands of variations. Isn’t that a reason to brush up your Chinese and head over to Zhongguo?
Drinking Realgar Wine
Where there’s food, a matching drink cannot be far. Besides eating 粽子 zòngzi, it is customary to drink realgar wine (雄黄酒 xiónghuángjiǔ) during the Dragon Boat Festival.
This is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented cereals mixed with powdered realgar, an arsenic mineral. Traditionally, the Chinese people believed that realgar was an effective antidote against mosquitos, diseases and evil spirits. As the date of the Dragon Boat Festival was around the height of summer, when many diseases spread among the people because of the heat, the custom of consuming realgar wine was introduced.
Wearing Fragrant Bags
For the same reason of avoiding contagious diseases and keeping away evil spirits, Chinese people also started sewing small bags (香囊 xiāngnáng) made out of colorful silk and filled with perfume, herbs, incense or other fragrant substances. They wore those bags around their neck or tied them to their clothes as an ornament. Nowadays, the shapes of these small bags extend beyond their original simple form to animals, cartoon characters and various objects.
Hanging Calamus and Wormwood on Doors
Before the Dragon Boat Festival, people usually clean their houses and hang calamus (菖蒲 chāngpú), a wetland plant, or wormwood (艾草 àicǎo) by their doors in order to keep mosquitos and insects away, clean the air and bring good luck to the household.
2. Legends or what is the Dragon Boat Festival really about?
You might have started to wonder just why exactly people in China race dragon boats or eat Zongzi for this festival (although, if you have followed our study on Chinese internet language, nothing the Chinese do will ever surprise you again). Just like with Chinese New Year, you know that every good tradition in China comes with a good legend! And the Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t come with one, but with five!
Commemorating Qū Yuán
The standard story of the festival begins with Qū Yuán 屈原 (340–278 BC), one of the most famous poets in Chinese history.
He was a poet and statesman who lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China. He was a patriotic and loyal advisor of the emperor, but following false accusations of treason and corruption, Qū Yuán was sent into exile. There, he wrote many famous poems in which he showed his love for his country.
When hearing that the state of Chu had been invaded by the Qin, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the patriot Qū Yuán became so emotional about it that he drowned himself in a river. As the local folks found out about his drowning, they rushed to the river, paddled out on their fishing boats and attempted to find his body. This attempt later turned into the tradition of dragon boat racing.
However, the local folks did not manage to find his body. To keep evil spirits away and to prevent the fish from eating his body, they threw bamboo leaves filled with rice into the water, splashing the water with paddles and beating on drums: The beginning of the traditions of eating Zongzi.
Commemorating Wǔ Zǐxū
Another person associated with the Dragon Boat Festival is Wǔ Zǐxū伍子胥 (722–481 BC), a minister and advisor to the emperor of the state of Wu during the Spring and Autumn period. He helped the king in military campaigns. However, after the emperor died and his son took his place, Wǔ Zǐxū stopped being trusted as an advisor. His advice was ignored, which caused the state great losses in battles. Still, he was blamed for the defeats and forced to commit suicide, after which his body was thrown into a river near Suzhou. The day is said to have been the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
Commemorating Cáo É
Number three of the people important for the Dragon Boat Festival is a young girl, Cáo É 曹娥 (130–143). She died while attempting to retrieve the body of her father who had drowned in a river in Zhejiang Province. Trying to find her father’s body and to give him a proper funeral, she walked along the river bank for days. Finally, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, after a long and unsuccessful search, Cáo É decided to jump into the river and her own body was later found next to her father’s. She was honored for her filial piety and affection, two traditional Chinese virtues and especially important for this festival.
Worshipping the Dragon King
Somewhat different is the legend of the dragon king: In ancient China, people believed that a dragon was in charge of the rain and the water from the rivers and seas. As water was so important for life and agriculture, they worshipped the Dragon King (龙王 Lóngwáng), organized boat races to entertain him and prepared rice cakes to satisfy his hunger. This way, they wanted to ensure good weather and plentiful crops for the upcoming year.
Whatever the origin, it is easy to see the connection of the festival to water, dragon boats and rice balls. But to really dive into the different traditions, you want to brush up your vocab! You are sure going to impress your Chinese friends over some 粽子 zòngzi and 雄黄酒 xiónghuángjiǔ.
端午节快乐 Duānwǔjié kuàilè!
端午节 Duānwǔjié = Dragon Boat Festival (celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month)
节日 jiérì = holiday
农历 nónglì = the traditional Chinese lunar calendar
农历五月初五 nónglì wǔyuè chū wǔ = the fifth day of the fifth lunar month 纪念屈原 jìniàn Qū Yuán = in commemoration of Qu Yuan
龙王 Lóngwáng = the Dragon King
龙舟 lóngzhōu = dragon boat
龙舟赛 lóngzhōu sài / 龙舟比赛lóngzhōu bǐsài = dragon boat race
划龙舟 huálóngzhōu = to row a dragon boat
锣鼓 luógǔ = gongs and drums
鼓手 gǔshǒu = drummer
粽子 zòngzi = sticky rice mixed with sweet or savory fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with plant stems and boiled
糯米 nuòmǐ = glutinous rice
竹叶 zhú yè = bamboo leaves
豆沙粽 dòushā zòng = 粽子 zòngzi filled with red bean paste
肉粽 ròu zòng = 粽子 zòngzi filled with meat
雄黄酒 xiónghuángjiǔ = realgar wine
菖蒲 chāngpú = calamus (sweet flag)
艾草 àicǎo = wormwood
挂菖蒲和艾草 guà chāngpú hé àicǎo = to hang calamus and wormwood
香囊 xiāngnáng = fragrant bag, a small bag full of fragrance worn during the Dragon Boat Festival
佩香囊 pèi xiāngnáng = to wear fragrant bags
Alexandra from Zizzle
Originally published at www.zizzle.io.