Dragon Boat Festival keeps the beast at bay

By LIU KUN in Wuhan and YE ZIZHEN in Beijing | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-06-14 08:07
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Tourists and a local resident make zongzi, sticky rice dumplings, at a competition in Linyi, Shandong province, on Sunday, in celebration of the traditional Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on Monday. The festival comes on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. [Photo by Wang Yanbin/for China Daily]

Celebration crosses ethnic lines and national boundaries as an important cultural event on the fifth day of the fifth month

Traditional Chinese festivals always have their symbolic foods-especially the four traditional big festivals. For Spring Festival, people think of dumplings. For Mid-Autumn Festival it's mooncakes. Tomb Sweeping Day has green rice balls. And the Dragon Boat Festival-or Duanwu Festival-features zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings.

There is always a core idea behind each festival. Reunion is the theme of the Spring and Mid-Autumn Festivals, while memorializing and worshipping ancestors is the core idea of Tomb Sweeping Day.

For the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, getting rid of disease, avoiding disasters and wishing for good health are the core ideas.

Based on ancient writings, Chen Lianshan, a professor of Chinese folklore, thinks that 2,000 years ago the Duanwu Festival was closely related to people's wishes to prevent epidemics, ward off devil spirits and wish for good health.

Xiao Fang, a sociologist at Beijing Normal University, thinks that as a traditional festival Duanwu ranks second only to Spring Festival because its month is associated with bad luck and devil spirits. A major activity to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival is a race of dragon boats, which is thought to calm those spirits.

Wen Yiduo (1899-1946), a poet and academic, wrote that on the fifth day of the fifth month, people threw rice dumplings into the water and raced the dragon boats-activities expressing awe of the dragon below and the hope that it will not make trouble in the days to come.

Besides racing dragon boats, people also hang sweet sedge and wormwood on their front doors, drink realgar wine and make pouches filled with herbs, all customs to get rid of evil spirits.

Though it's a traditional festival, the Dragon Boat Festival holiday was not made a public holiday until 2008, together with Mid-Autumn Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day.

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