Traditions of Duan Wu
How Do People Celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?
Chinese people practice various customs thought to dispel disease, and invoke good health.
Some of the most traditional customs include dragon boat racing, eating sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), hanging Chinese mugwort and calamus, drinking realgar wine, and wearing perfume pouches. Now many of the customs are disappearing or no longer observed. You are more likely to find them practiced in rural areas.
1. 吃粽子 Eating Sticky Rice Dumplings
Zongzi (粽子zòngzi /dzong-dzuh/) are the most traditional Dragon Boat Festival food. Related to Qu Yuan commemoration, the legend says that lumps of rice (not unlike zongzi) were thrown into the river to stop fish eating his drowned body. They are a kind of sticky rice dumpling made of glutinous rice filled with meats, beans, and other fillings.
2. 赛龙舟 Participating In or Attending Dragon Boat Races
Dragon boat racing is the most important activity of the Dragon Boat Festival. It is said to originate from the legend of people paddling out on boats to seek the body of patriotic poet Qu Yuan (343–278 BC), who drowned himself in a River. There is another explanation. It is believed that dragon boat racing can be traced back to over 2,000 years ago, when it was a way to worship the Dragon God or Water God.
The wooden boats are shaped and decorated in the form of a Chinese dragon. The boats’ size varies by region and usually need 30–60 people to paddle them. During the races, dragon boat teams paddle harmoniously and hurriedly, accompanied by the sound of beating drums. It is said that the winning team will have good luck and a happy life in the following year. The most famous dragon boat races can be found in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou. Read more on Dragon Boat Racing.
3. 挂艾草、悬菖蒲 Hanging Chinese Mugwort and Calamus
The Dragon Boat Festival is held at the start of summer when diseases are more prevalent. Mugwort leaves are used medicinally in China to combat such diseases. Their fragrance deters flies and mosquitoes. Calamus is an aquatic plant that has similar effects. On the fifth day of the fifth month, people usually clean their houses, courtyards, and hang mugwort and calamus on doors lintels to discourage diseases. It is also said hanging mugwort and calamus can bring good luck to the family.
4. 饮雄黄酒 Drinking Realgar Wine
There is an old saying: 'Drinking realgar wine drives diseases and evils away!' Realgar wine is a Chinese alcoholic drink consisting of fermented cereals and powdered realgar (ruby-like arsenic sulphide). In ancient times, people believed that realgar was an antidote for all poisons, and effective for killing insects and driving away evil spirits. So, everyone would drink some realgar wine during the Dragon Boat Festival.
5. 佩香囊 Wearing Perfume Pouches
Before Dragon Boat Festival arrives, parents usually prepare perfume pouches for their children. They sew little bags with colorful silk cloth, fill the bags with perfumes or herbal medicines, and then string them shut with silk threads. During Dragon Boat Festival perfume pouches are hung around kids' necks or tied to the front of a garment as an ornament. The perfume pouches are said to protect them from evil.