Dragon Boat Festival - Traditions and Customs

How do people celebrate Dragon Boat Festival in China? As one of the oldest and grandest traditional festivals in China, Dragon Boat Festival has many customs and traditions, and the most popular activities usually come from dragon boat racing, eating Zongzi, wearing perfume pouches, tying five-color silk threads and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus.

Eating Zongzi

Concerning the Dragon Boat Festival traditions, the first thing came into Chinese people’s mind should be the festival food, Zongzi, glutinous rice wrapped by bamboo or reed leaves. Eating Zongzi is one of the oldest traditions of the festival, but people may ask for the reason of it.

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 customs. Nowadays, there is a great variety of Zongzi in different regions.
See more on festival foods.

Sell Zongzi in the Market
Zongzi Sold at Local Market
Dragon Boat Race
Dragon Boat Race

The dragon boat racing event is held annually in different places of China. 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 regular festival custom. The activity enjoys higher popularity in southern China, where rivers and lakes are densely scattered. At present, dragon boat racing is not only a celebration but also an international sport event.

Drinking Realgar Wine

In ancient China, realgar was regarded as insecticide and antidote in traditional Chinese medicine, which could wipe out viper, scorpion and centipede. People put the realgar into the making process of wine, which is believed can drive out the virus and evil spirits on their bodies. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people will drink the realgar wine to prevent against skin disease, and they even rub the wine on kids’ forehead to avoid disease. Based on modern medicine, realgar is a bit poisonous, so people should not over drink it.

Hanging Calamus and Wormwood

During Dragon Boat Festival, it is a very important custom to hang calamus and wormwood clusters on the door frame. Both calamus and wormwood could give off aroma that can repel pests. In the meantime, people would also make garlands with those plants and wear them, for they believe this could prevent themselves from insects’ bite and do some good to their health.

Wearing Perfume Pouches

Zongzi & Perfume Pouch
Zongzi & Perfume Pouch

The perfumed pouches is usually a small cloth bag stuffed with vanilla, herbs, realgar and flower petals, and people from south China may carry it in belts or pockets. With favorable fragrance, the perfume pouch does not function like the perfume we use in present days, but has its special medical use. As the festival occurs on Chinese summer when the germs spread easily, so people use perfume pouches to sterilize themselves and prevent diseases.

Wearing a Five-color String Bracelet

In the early morning before the sunrise, Chinese parents will tie five-color strings on their kids’ wrist. The five colors, green, white, red, yellow and black, stand for five kinds of mysterious powers, which are said to be able to eliminate misfortunes like diseases and disasters. Wearing them, kids are expected to live a long life. However, they do not have to wear it always. Once it rains after the Dragon Boat Festival, they should take off the bracelets and litter them away, hence the bad luck is also thrown away together.

Picking Herbs at Noon

It is one of the oldest customs to celebrate the festival, and it is still sustained in some rural areas. It is said that the herbs picked on that day are the best in medical pesticide effect, for the herbs have been ripe at that time. Therefore, Chinese people may go to mountains to search for herbs on the festival day for future need.

Bathing in Herbs Waters

Another tradition of Drgon Boat festival comes from bathing activities. Boiling the herbs with water, Chinese people will take an herbs water bathe at night to avoid getting furuncle and miliaria in summer heat. As the bathing benefits people’s skin care and health, people in remote areas are willing to keep the custom.

Customs in Different Regions

What do people do on Dragon Boat Festival in different regions of China? Apart from those common practices mentioned above, some certain areas still remains their unique ways to observe the festival, especially in rural China. 

 Hebei Province: People cannot fetch water from the well on that day, for it is believed that water on that day may cause disease. Therefore, people would store water in advance.

 Shandong Province: The first thing after they wake up on Dragon Boat Festival is to drink a cup of wine, which could ward off the evil spirit and poisonous creatures.

 Shanxi Province: People would hang the calamus and wormwood on their body to expel mosquito’s bite.

 Jiangsu Province: People in Jiading County would purchase and cook drumfish, and for Nanjing People, they would wash their eyes using the water with a bit realgar wine and two ancient coins in it, which is believed able to avoid eyes ailments.

 Shaanxi Province: Apart from eating Zongzi, hanging calamus and mugwort, people in north Shaanxi will tailor a bellyband embroidered with five poisonous creatures, namely snake, scorpion, spider, geckos and toad.

 Gansu Province: In Jingning County, people would pick the rose, pickle and preserve the petals in honey, which could be the best drink to relive the summer heat.

 Zhejiang Province: Some people in that area have a tradition of visiting teachers during the festival, and traditional pharmacist will also go to pick the herbs in the mountains.

 Jiangxi Province: It is an old customs to take a herb water bath on that day, which can prevent the skin disease.

 Guangdong Province: After the dragon boat race, Shenzhen people usually wash their face and hands with the water that of the river or sea, which means washing away the misfortune.

 Further Reading:
Dragon Boat Festival Facts
Origin & History

- Last modified on Mar. 30, 2018 -
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