Dragon Boat Festival Traditions - Top 15 Things to Do

Dragon Boat Festival traditions are various as the festival has developed for thousands of years. What are the most important traditions in China? Here are the top 15 things to do of this festival.

1. Eating Zongzi

Zongzi Sold at Local Market
Zongzi Sold at Local Market

Zongzi, the festival food, is made from glutinous rice with various fillings and wrapped in reed leaves. Usually, jujubes are added into rice in northern China; but in southern areas, bean paste, meat, ham, yolks could be wrapped together with rice into Zongzi; there are other fillings as well.

Originated from the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), Zongzi had really developed into a festival food during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC), when the great poet Qu Yuan committed his death by drowning himself in a river. He was a patriotic poet of the Chu State, and gave his life to the state rather than surrender to other kingdoms. To protect his body from becoming fish's dinner, people fed the water creatures with Zongzi. Since then, eating Zongzi has been kept as one of the most important Dragon Boat Festival traditions.
 See more on festival foods 

Dragon Boat Race
Dragon Boat Race

According to the legend, after the poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, local people paddled the boat to disperse fishes so that Qu Yuan's body would not be eaten. Since that, the practice was kept as a Dragon Boat Festival tradition. Every year dragon boat racing will be held during the festival around China where a river, a lake or the sea lies. In a regular racing boat, there is a commander, who sits on the bow to play a drum in order to encourage his teammates and guide them to row at the same pace; the 20 paddlers try their best to row the dragon boat after the starter give his word; at the end of the boat, there is a steersman controlling the moving direction.
 See more about Dragon Boat 

3. Drinking Realgar Wine

Soaking realgar in the wine and drinking the realgar wine is an old Dragon Boat Festival tradition. Realgar is a traditional Chinese medicine. It is said viper and other poisonous creatures are afraid of realgar. On the lunar May fifth, people will drink realgar wine to drive evil things away and to wish for a healthy life.

4. Hanging Calamus and Wormwood

When the festival is coming, hanging calamus and wormwood is practiced in many places of China. It is believed that they can help avoid bad luck and diseases. Generally these two herbs would be hanged on their door frame. People would also use them to make Dragon Boat Festival decorations and wear them, for aroma and health.

5. Wearing Perfume Pouches

Zongzi & Perfume Pouch
Zongzi & Perfume Pouch

Pouch is one of the most popular Dragon Boat Festival decorations worn by Chinese people. Filled with vanilla and other herbs, it is a kind of convenient medical thing to drive germs away. People also wear them to pray for good luck, to enjoy the pleasant fragrance, and to prevent diseases. 

6. Wearing a Five-color String Bracelet

Wearing five-color string bracelets is also a Dragon Boat Festival custom. The five colors, green, red, white, black and yellow, are the lucky colors in ancient China. Parents would let children wear the five-color string bracelets on wrists for a wish of long and healthy life. As unique Dragon Boat Festival decorations, the five-color string bracelets together with perfumed pouches have formed a popular trend during the festival.

7. Married Daughters Hidding in Their Parents’ Home

According old Dragon Boat Festival customs in north China, the fifth lunar month is a bad lucky month and the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is regarded as the most unlucky day. Therefore, the parents would take their married daughters back home and put them under their protection to avoid bad things happening. In some places, they also take back their grandchildren who is under the age of one.

8. Wiping Realgar Wine on Kids’ Forehead

There is another Dragon Boat Festival tradition that is wiping realgar wine on kids’ forehead. Parents would paint a Chinese character “王” on children’s forehead with realgar wine. On one hand, realgar wine could drive poisonous creatures away; on the other hand, the child would look like a tiger, which could keep away evil things. Except forehead, realgar wine could also be wiped on nose, ears or other parts of body, which helps keep away diseases and live a longer life.

9. Driving away the Five Poisonous Pests

The five poisonous pests are scorpions, centipedes, poisonous snakes, salamanders, and geckos. Around the festival, these poisonous pests start to become active and hurt people. They believe paste paintings of the pests on door can help drive them away. In some places, they would paint a needle in the head of the pests, showing they are dead and cannot hurt people anymore. Some people also embroider poisonous pests on clothes with the same purpose, forming the unique Dragon Boat Festival clothing style.

10. Bathing in Herbs Waters

Another Dragon Boat Festival tradition is bathing in herbs water. It is believed that the Dragon Boat Festival day is when the herbal medicines effect the best. Boiling the herbs, especially calamus and wormwood, with water, people would take an herbs water bath to prevent diseases. On the other hand, an herbs bath is also useful to wipe bad luck off as people believe.

11. Picking Herbs at Noon

Herbs are in the best medical effect on Dragon Boat Festival, especially at noon on that day. Therefore, people, especially people in rural areas near a mountain, would go into mountains to pick herbs on that day. Gradually it develops into a Dragon Boat Festival custom.

12. Hanging Portrait of Zhong Kui

Hanging portrait of Zhong Kui has been a tradition since Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). It is said Li Longji, the then emperor, had fallen in illness for a month. He dreamed of Zhong Kui catching a ghost who stole his jade flute, then he quickly recovered when he waked up. The emperor demanded a painter to paint a portrait of Zhong Kui. Later, hanging portraits of Zhong Kui became a Dragon Boat Festival tradition.

13. Sending Needs for Hot and Rainy Weather

It is well-known that Dragon Boat Festival is on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, when the weather is getting hotter and rainy in central China. On that day, the parents of newly married girls would send straw hats, fans, summer sleeping mats and other things to the son-in-laws to protect from heat and rain.

14. Rolling and Eating Eggs

Eating eggs of chickens, ducks or gooses is an important Dragon Boat Festival custom. In the morning of Dragon Boat Festival, the elder in northeast China would roll a boiled egg on the belly of children, then peel it and let children eat it, which is believed that could protect children from stomachache.

15. Boiling Garlics

Garlics is a kind of seasongings as well as Chinese medicine, which has a function of sterilization. Meanwhile, eating cooked garlics can help clear gastrointestinal toxins and dredge blood vessels. People in most regions of China would boil and eat new garlics for health in the morning of Dragon Boat Festival.

 Further Reading
Top 5 Dragon Boat Festival Activities & 17 Regional Customs

Top 12 Events of Dragon Boat Racing in China

Dragon Boat Festival Celebration around the World

- Last updated on Jun. 13, 2023 -
Questions & Answers on Dragon Boat Festival Traditions - Top 15 Things to Do
Asked by Robin from USA | Jun. 13, 2023 06:47Reply
Where are dragon boat races in NC, US
Answers (1)
Answered by Tina | Jun. 13, 2023 20:54

In 2022, it was held in Koka Booth Amphitheater, Cary.
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