Dragon Boat Festival, also called Duanwu or Tuen Ng Festival, is a traditional holiday observed annually over 2,000 years in China to commemorate Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), an ancient Chinese patriotic poet.
Why is the Dragon Boat Festival celebrated? With a history over 2,000 years, it used to be a hygiene day when people would use herbs to dispel diseases and viruses. However, the most popular origin is closely related to the great poet Qu Yuan in the Warring States Period (475 – 221BC). To engrave his death on the fifth day on the fifth lunar month, people celebrate the festival in various ways. Great people like Wu Zixu and Cao E also died on the same day, so in certain areas, people also commemorate them during the festival.
As a minister in the State of Chu – one of the seven Warring States, Qu Yuan was a patriotic poet who wrote a lot of works to show his care and devotion to his country. Composing masterpieces like Li Sao (The Lament), he was regarded as one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. After he was exiled by the king, he chose to drown himself in the river rather than seeing his country invaded and conquered by the State of Qin. He died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, thus people decided to commemorate him on that day every year.
Many traditional customs and activities are held on the specified day by people in China and even by people in neighboring Asian countries. Dragon boat racing and eating Zongzi are the central customs of the festival. In some regions in China, people also wear a perfume pouch, tie five-color silk thread and hang mugwort leaves or calamus on their doors.
The origin of the festival is said to be when locals paddled out on boats to scare the fish away and retrieve Qu Yuan’s body (the patriotic poet who drowned himself in the Miluo River when the Chu State fell in 278 BC). The races are a symbol of the attempts to rescue and recover the body of Qu Yuan.
Chinese people, especially children, made incense bags and hung them on their necks to avoid catching contagious diseases and to keep evil spirits away.
During every Dragon Boat Festival many Chinese families follow the custom of eating zongzi. Historical records show that people used wild rice leaves to wrap millet flour dumplings into the shape of ox horns, and then placed them in bamboo to cook.
On Dragon Boat Festival people often put calamus and wormwood leaves on their doors and windows to repel insects, flies, fleas, and moths from the house. Hanging these plants on doors or windows is also believed to dispel evil, and bring health to the family especial the kids.