Duānwǔ Jié (端午节，Dragon Boat Festival) has long been a traditional holiday associated with many customs and superstitions in China. This year’s holiday falls on June 7 to June 9. It’s a day to commemorate the life and death in 278 BCE of the famous Chinese poet and scholar Qu Yuan of Chu Kingdom. In other stories, it’s also a day of remembrance for Wu Zixu in the former territory of the state of Wu, a loyal advisor who was forced to commit suicide by the King Fuchai, with his body thrown into the river. Beside eating zòngzi (粽子) (sticky rice wrapped in a leaf), there are some more symbols and traditions you might not know about this holiday.
What to say to each other in Duānwǔ Jié?
Some people believe it’s not appropriate to say Duānwǔ jié kuàilè (端午节快乐，Happy Dragon Boat Festival). There are two reasons behind this thought. First, the Dragon Boat Festival is a day of remembrance, worship, and sacrifice in history. Besides, due to the seasonal change in the weather at this time of year, people easily get sick. In the old times without good medical facilities, people had many activities to dispel evil spirits and avoid illness on this day. Nowadays, it’s common to say Duānwǔ jié kuàilè, but there are those who still follow the tradition of “peace and health”, and say Duānwǔ ān kāng (端午安康，”wishing you peace and health for Dragon Boat Festival”). So we suggest you think twice before saying Duānwǔ jié kuàilè.
Zòngzi (粽子, dumplings made of glutinous rice stuffed with fillings)
Zòngzi is the most traditional Dragon Boat Festival food. It is wrapped in bamboo leaves or reeds and tied with colored thread. The fillings vary from region to region. It is also related to the commemoration of Qu Yuan, as folklore says people threw zòngzi into the river to stop fish eating his drowned body.
I like rice dumplings with meat.
我喜欢肉粽。Wǒ xǐ huān ròu zòng.
Lóngzhōu （龙舟， dragon boats）
Dragon boats are traditionally made of teak wood in different sizes with brightly decorated designs. They are usually human-powered boats. You will see many dragon boat races to the sound of beating drums in China during Dragon Boat Festival.
Dragon boating is a fun activity.
划龙舟有趣。 Huá Lóng zhōu yǒu qù.
Xiónghuáng Jiǔ （雄黄酒，Chinese realgar wine）
Xiónghuáng jiǔ is made from fermented cereals and powdered realgar (an orange-red mineral, arsenic sulfide). In ancient times, people believed drinking it during Duānwǔ jié can help kill bugs, or drive away evil spirits. Since realgar is poisonous, this is one tradition you might not wish to take part in…
I don’t drink Chinese realgar wine.
我不喝雄黄酒。Wǒ bù hē Xiónghuáng jiǔ.
Xiāngbāo （香包，perfume pouches）
On Dragon Boat Festival, you can usually see some children wearing a little bag around their necks, or carrying it all day. Those little bags are made of colorful silk cloth, then filled with perfumes or herbal medicines. According to folklore, they are said to protect kids from the evil.
Can I have a perfume pouch?
我能要一个香包吗？Wǒ néng yào yí gè xiāngbāo mā?