My first introduction to Duān Wǔ Jié, or Dragon Boat Festival, was in June of 2011 when my husband and I were in China to adopt our daughter. It was the first time I had ever stepped foot on Chinese soil. I knew very little about Chinese holidays and even less about Chinese culture. So when our sweet flight attendant delivered our steaming hot mid-flight snacks wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string, my husband and I both looked at each other with confusion.
We later came to find out that our snacks were zòng zi, the traditional food of Dragon Boat Festival. They are made of a sticky rice and stuffed with different fillings, both sweet and savory. They are then wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string.
This traditional food is prepared and eaten on Dragon Boat Festival, which is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month to commemorate one of China’s greatest patriots, scholars, and poets: Qu Yuan. He lived during the Warring State period of the Zhou Dynasty in the kingdom of Chu, and tried unsuccessfully to advise his kingdom of the coming Qin invasion. He was actually exiled from his land because of his unwillingness to support an alliance with the Qin! It was during his exile that Qu Yuan wrote a large amount of his poetry that is now famous today.
After hearing the news that his kingdom had been defeated by the Qin, the legend states that Qu Yuan was so grieved about the loss that he threw himself into the river and drowned. Because the Chinese loved him so, they got into long boats looking for him, and threw zòng zi into the river for the fish, hoping that Qu Yuan’s body would not be eaten.
Today is Dragon Boat Festival, and the Chinese will celebrate by preparing and eating zòng zi, as well as watching dragon boat races. There are many ways adoptive families could celebrate Dragon Boat Festival also, but here are five ideas to get you started:
1. Read books about the holiday together. This is a fantastic way to recognize the holiday and share traditional Chinese culture, and only requires a trip to the library or a few purchases from Amazon.
If you’re just going to purchase one, I’d start with Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival. And for older kids, I’d suggest The Story Behind the Dragon Boat Festival.
Here are our favorite titles:
Also, if you are interested in reading some of Qu Yuan’s poetry, Li Sao and Other Poems of Qu Yuan is a terrific resource. It’s translated into English and I’ve used it as a read aloud during homeschool studies. It’s not a children’s book but it’s perfect for middle or high school students, and even older elementary-aged children.
2. Purchase zòng zi from a local Asian market and share a Chinese meal including fried rice, dumplings, or whatever your family prefers. Make your own zòng zi if you want to give it a try!
3. Draw dragon boats or if you’re feeling really crafty, make your own to race!
4. Race toy boats (or the ones you just made) in the pool or bathtub.
5. Check local listings and FCC organizations for Dragon Boat Festival celebrations or dragon boat races. A few cities near us host races, and there is even a local dragon boat race club!
Or create your own traditions with your family! Moonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats is an awesome book that offers many different ideas to celebrate Chinese holidays. There are endless possibilities!
Duān Wǔ Jié Kuài Lè, my friends!