With a history over 2,000 years, the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival (端午节), is steeped in tradition and legend. The holiday commemorates Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and patriot who lived from 340-278 BCE.
CCTV-America explains the Dragon Boat Festival:
Qu Yuan had served as an advisor to the state of Chu during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), a time when China was ruled by multiple warring factions. He fell into disfavor with his king and returned to his home where he wrote poems that would become some of the most classic in Chinese literature.
He was very concerned about the fate of the Chu state and when he learned of the capture of his state’s capital by the state of Qin, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. The Qin state would continue to become the first imperial dynasty of China.
The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu jie, is celebrated annually on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is June 20 this year.
For thousands of years, the festival has been celebrated by holding dragon boat races and eating zongzi (粽子) glutinous rice with a vegetable and/or meat filling wrapped in bamboo leaves. Traditions of making the special dish vary across different parts of China. Legend has it that the people, sad over Qu Yuan’s suicide, made zongzi to feed to the fishes, so they would not eat his body.
Another tradition during the holiday is making perfume or medicine sachets, known xiang bao (香包), which small sachets made of cloth, ribbon, or paper with traditional Chinese medicine inside and are meant as a good luck talisman to ward off bad spirits and also insects.