The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. It is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar – and has been for more than 2,000 years. This year the celebration falls on May 30th in Hong Kong. Many legends around the Dragon Boat Festival exist but surely the one that prevails in many regions is that of Qu Yuan, a renowned poet who was exiled during the Warring States period. Legend has it that Qu Yuan, desperate, drowned himself in a river after his beloved got lost to the enemy (in other versions, he is said to have committed suicide because no one cared about the future of the country).
This commemoration festival to honour Qu Yuan is a must-live experience – you can take our word for it! In 2009, the festival even made it to the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural list. If you are new to vibrant Hong Kong then you must have a look at this year’s festivities. Several customs – some that will pique your curiosity and others that might surprise you – are part of the celebration:
- Expect to see active house cleaning sessions and mugwort and calamus being hanged all over Hong Kong as they are believed to protect against diseases and to be effective at keeping flies and mosquitoes away.
- On that occasion, some of the most popular foods are available pretty much everywhere. Make sure you try sticky rice dumplings (known as ‘zongzi’ in Cantonese). Different flavours exist so we recommend that you try them all. Rice dumplings are an integral part of the commemoration as rice is symbolic – the legend goes that people would throw grains of rice to scare fish away and prevent them from eating Qu Yuan’s body.
- You don’t want to – and you should not – miss the parades but most importantly the dragon races – surely the most entertaining and fun part of the festival. Those are races between several teams who compete in wooden Chinese-dragon-shaped boats (according to the legend many villagers went out on similar boats to look out for the beloved poet’s body). Competitors enjoy paddling under the sound of beating drums as the sound is believed to scatter fish and evil spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body.
Many of us will enjoy extended holidays from May 28th to May 30th to take part in these most-awaited festivities. Many competitions are being held simultaneously on May 30th all over Hong Kong. The 2 biggest competitions, namely the CCB race – an international event where the best teams of the region compete in Victoria Harbour – and the Stanley race – where amateurs from all walks of life get to compete – will take place between June 2 and 4. The winning team is guaranteed good luck and happiness for the year! May the best team win!