Traditions of Duan Wu
Customs of Duan Wu
Duan Wu Festival is one of the four major traditional celebrations in China that combines prayers, entertainment and food in one. In September 2009, Duan Wu Festival became the first Chinese festival to be officially inscribed by UNESCO into the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
How much do you know about the rich traditions of Duan Wu Festival?
扒龙舟 Dragon boat racing
A race whereby a team made of many crew paddle to the finish, dragon boat racing is a very important part of Duan Wu Festival. It began as a ceremonial totem worship of the Dragon and is still popular in the southern coastal parts of our country. This totem worship is said to prevent the occurrence of floods.
拜神祭祖 Ancestral worship
Ancestral worship is a form of filial piety, which dictates that genuflection to one’s ancestors, Heaven, Earth and the Gods should be carried out in exchange for and in appreciation of their blessings and protection.
挂艾草与菖蒲 Hanging of Mugwort and Calamus
It is believed that Mugwort has the ability to ward off evil and bring good fortune. Hence hanging of Mugwort on doors become common practice and a custom associated with Duan Wu. This is still being practiced in many places in the North and South.
放纸鸢 Kite Flying
In the south, kite flying is also a custom associated with Duan Wu Festival. Made by gluing paper or silk onto frames made of bamboo strips, lengths of string are attached to these contraptions and flown into the air by harnessing the forces of the wind through understanding of aerodynamics.
画额 Drawing on forehead
The custom of dabbing children’s foreheads with realgar is supposed to be effective in warding off poisonous insects. This is typically done by writing the Chinese character representing ‘King’ on their foreheads with realgar wine.
打午时水 Drawing of water at noon
The tradition of drawing water at noon is a popular custom practiced in areas along the northern coast. Water drawn from wells between 11am to 1pm on Duan Wu Festival was considered to be very auspicious, which is most effective for warding off evil.
栓五色丝线 Tying of five-coloured bracelets
In ancient china, the five colours were highly revered as they are considered to represent auspiciousness. During Duan Wu Festival, families use red, yellow, blue, green and purple threads to make five-coloured bracelets which are worn on children’s wrists to ward off evil, plague and misfortune.
避五毒 Warding off the Five Poisons
Duan Wu Festival was considered a day of poison in ancient time by the people in northern China, which gave rise to the practice of warding off the five poisons – namely the centipede, the snake, the scorpion, the lizard and the toad. In essence, it was a reminder for people to take precaution against diseases during Duan Wu Festival.