Dragon Boat Festival 2024: Foods, Facts, and Traditions

May 31, 2022

What is the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival, or Duānwǔ jié 端午节 in Chinese, is one of the four major Chinese public holidays along with the Spring Festival, the Tomb-Sweeping Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is also celebrated in many other Asian countries including Singapore and Malaysia.

In Mainland China, there is usually a three-day for the Dragon Boat Festival.

    Fun fact:The Dragon Boat Festival was first recognized as a public holiday in China in 2008, and was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009.

When is the Dragon Boat Festival celebrated?

The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which typically falls in late May or early June in the Gregorian calendar.

For 2024, the Dragon Boat Festival will be on June 10; the public holidays will be June 8-10.

What is the Double Fifth Festival?

The Double Fifth Festival is another name referring to the Dragon Boat Festival. This is because The Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The Chinese name for the Double Fifth Festival is 重五节 chóng wǔ jié, not to be confused with 重阳节 chóngyáng jié, the Double Ninth Festival.

    Fun fact: 午 in Duānwǔ jié 端午节 is the name for the fifth lunar month and is pronounced the same as the number “five” ( 五) in Chinese, making the connection to the number 5 even stronger.

Why do Chinese people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat is celebrated to commemorate the death of a Chinese poet admired for his patriotism who became a national hero. (More in this later.) It is also a time to protect oneself from evil spirits and bad luck because the fifth month was considered inauspicious.

What is the story behind the Dragon Boat Festival

Though the Dragon Boat Festival has several origin stories, the most popular one is that of Qu Yuan, a famous poet, and minister in the Chu State during the Warring States period. When the Emperor of Chu decided to form an alliance with the Qin State, Qu Yuan opposed it; Qu Yuan was then accused of treason and exiled.

Many years later, the Qin State betrayed the alliance and seized the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and drowned.

During exile, Qu Yuan had grown close to the locals in the village where he lived. When they realized what had happened, the locals quickly jumped into their boats, racing to save Qu Yuan. However, it was too late. (This is said to be the origin of today’s dragon boat racing.)

Even after searching the river, Qu Yuan’s body could not be found. The locals then dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would not disturb Qu Yuan’s body and would eat the rice instead. Legend tells us this is the origin of zòngzi 粽子 (more on that below).

Qu Yuan Dragon Boat Festival

How do Chinese people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

Dragon Boat Festival Traditions #1: Avoiding bad luck

The fifth lunar month in which the Dragon Boat Festival falls is considered inauspicious. This is mostly because the wǔ dú 五毒 (“five dangerous creatures”), namely centipedes, toads, scorpions, spiders, and snakes, begin to emerge during this time due to the warmer weather. Therefore, people will hang wormwood and calamus around their houses to keep illness and creepy critters away.

In addition, parents will make pouches shaped like zòngzi 粽子 (keep scrolling to find out more about these tasty treats) full of perfume or herbs for their children to ward off evil.

Dragon Boat Festival Traditions #2: Eating Zongzi

粽子 zòngzi are a traditional Dragon Boat Festival food. They are made by stuffing sticky rice with fillings ranging from sweets such as red bean paste or dates to savory such as salted egg or pork. They are then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. You’ll likely see sweet zòngzi in the north of China and savory zòngzi in the south.

Dragon Boat Festival Food Zongzi

Dragon Boat Festival Traditions #3: Dragon boat races

Dragon boat races are still held annually in China. The wooden boats are canoe-shaped and designed to look like dragons. These boats may be crewed by up to 80 people, and you can choose to participate in one, however, bear in mind that dragon boat racing is no easy feat. Racers usually train all year round.

Most people choose to attend the race instead. In China, the most popular dragon boat races can be found in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou.

What does the dragon boat symbolize?

According to legend, the dragon boat races originated from locals hurrying to recover Qu Yuan from the river. Since then, dragon boat races have been held every year to commemorate the poet’s death. Because of this, the dragon boat has become a symbol of patriotism, teamwork, and unity.

Dragon Boat racing

Chinese Dragon Boat Festival Greetings and Phrases

Character Pinyin English
端午安康 Duānwǔjié ānkāng Have a safe and healthy Dragon Boat Festival!
粽子 zòngzi sticky rice dumplings
赛龙舟 sàilóngzhōu dragon boat racing
屈原 Qū Yuán Chinese poet and government official during Warring States period
五毒 wǔdú five poisonous creatures

If you want to learn more about the Dragon Boat Festival, sign up for Chinese classes!

About the Author

Eden has been learning Chinese since 2008. She fell in love with the language, food, and culture and never looked back! Eden lived in China for six years, including in Harbin, Beijing, and Dali.

Eden- Author