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The Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year (i.e. late May or June). 

June 05, 2024
The Dragon Boat Festival

There are many competing explanations for Duanwu Jie, the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar—this year, June 10. All involve some combination of dragons, spirits, loyalty, honor, and food—some of the most important traditions in Chinese culture. The festival’s main elements—now popular the world over—are racing long, narrow wooden boats decorated with dragons and eating sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves, called zongzi in Mandarin, and jung in Cantonese.

Both the Dragon Boat races and Zongzi have become much bigger than just the holiday. In many places, if you head to a waterway on the weekend of June 10, you’ll find the intricately decorated boats manned by two rows of paddlers egged on by loud drummers.

You can’t have a Dragon Boat Festival without zongzi, or glutinous rice dumplings. Many people still make their own zongzi from scratch, but most people simply buy ready-made ones from restaurants, hotels, or markets.

The most common zongzi is the Cantonese variety, with tender pork belly, roasted duck, salted eggs, and mushrooms. Some restaurants even add luxurious ingredients like abalone, scallops, and truffles. Or if you have a sweet tooth, opt for the sweet varieties with red bean paste or sweet potatoes.

It wouldn’t be a true holiday without some festive eats. Eating zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings, is a significant custom for the Dragon Boat Festival. Wrapped with bamboo leaves, zongzi are made with glutinous rice stuffed with sweet – usually lotus seed or red bean paste – or savoury fillings such as pork belly, conpoy, beans, and salted egg yolks. Simply steam or boil them and serve with soy sauce or white sugar to enjoy.

Dragon boat racing is the most popular activity during the Dragon Boat Festival (I mean, the clue is in the name). Dating back thousands of years in history, dragon boat racing sees teams comprised of paddlers, a drummer, and a steersperson racing against each other in long, narrow boats. 

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