Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival, is an important Chinese celebration filled with legends and traditions.
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Dragon Boat Legend
Dragon Boat Festival has been celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar calendar for over 2,000 years. There are several legends about its origin.
The most popular one is that the holiday is for honoring Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and loyal politician who drowned in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month.
Qu Yuan was so loved that people quickly paddled boats on the river to rescue/recover him. They beat drums to ward off evil spirits as they raced along the river. They threw zongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo, to keep the fish well fed and away from Qu Yuan’s body.
Some modern-day remembrance traditions (with regional differences) take place every year to celebrate the life and legacy of Qu Yuan.
Dragon Boat Race
The most important activity of the festival is racing dragon boats, symbolizing the race to find Qu Yuan in the river.
Teams race down rivers in colorful boats shaped like dragons.
It is common for teams to have anywhere from 18 to 20 paddlers. The leader sits in the front with a drum and the steerer sits in the back. The drummer beats the drum to encourage the rowers to keep their pace and time throughout the race.
It is believed that the winning team will enjoy a year of luck and prosperity.
Watch a race in action:
Dragon Boat Festival Traditions
Zongzi is the traditional food of the festival. The rice dumplings are stuffed with various fillings and steamed or boiled inside bamboo.
Many families prepare the rice dumplings the day before and enjoy them first thing in the morning.
Try making zongzi. These recipes include a sweet version with red beans and a savory version with pork belly.
Incense & Herb Bags
Xiang bao (perfume sachets), mostly worn by children, are believed to provide protection and bring luck.
This traditional craft is usually made out of cloth, ribbon, or paper, and filled with fragrant herbs and powders.
Special Plants Hung on Doors
For generations, families have hung Chinese mugwort and calamus from their doors and walls to ward off disease and to keep flies and mosquitos away.
Some families will also thoroughly clean their homes in preparation for the holiday.
At 12:00 noon egg balancers everywhere stop what they’re doing to try and make their eggs stand up.
It is believed that the earth’s gravitational pull is the strongest at this time, which makes it possible to balance an egg.
This fun tradition dates back to ancient China when people believed that balancing eggs would bring good luck.
Dragon Boat Festival Dates
June 14, 2021
June 3, 2022
June 22, 2023
June 10, 2024
Dragon Boat Festival Activities & Books
The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts is a great resource for celebrating Chinese culture. With over 100 projects and ideas, these two are specific to Dragon Boat Festival.
Or try folding and decorating your own paper dragon boat with these step-by-step instructions from Little Passports DIY Dragon Boat for Kids!
Or watch this video to fold, string, and fill your own pouches. (You’ll need to slow the video down to follow the steps, and provide adult support for younger children.)
Don’t want to craft? Purchase these empty sachet pouches on Amazon!
Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival Little Mei wants to know why she must wear a special scented pouch to ward off the evil spirits. Grandpa tells her the story of Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet who loved his kingdom. Includes a quick recipe for zongzi, sticky rice balls wrapped in reed leaves.
Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes Hands-on family activities, recipes, and traditional tales to read aloud.
LEGO 80103 Chinese Dragon Boat Race 2019 Asia Exclusive (contains 583 pieces)
Explore our China Profile page for a detailed map, infographic, photographs, national symbols, books, activities, and more!
Engage kids in a Country Research Project that guides them in learning about the geography and culture of China.