Duanwujie 端午节 Dragonboat Festival 18 June 2018

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The fifth day of the fifth lunar month is  端午节, commonly known as the Dragonboat Festival in English. It is a public holiday in China  and the fesival was added to the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List on October 30th 2009. It commemorates the suicide of poet and patriot Qu Yuan in Miluo River after his kingdom of Chu was invaded by Qin. 

After his suicide, people went out on boats to look for his body but was unable to find him. This was supposedly how dragon boat racing started. They then threw sticky rice dumplings into the river in the hope of keeping the fish from eating the body. This was supposed to be the origin of zongzi 粽子, the sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves eaten on the festival.

Zongzi tend to have sweet fillings in the north like jujube and bean paste whereas the south prefers savory fillings like pork, sausage and salted duck eggs. The shapes tied may also differ according to region. Some families will make their own dumplings at home but it is a lot of work so if you are lazy, it can easily be bought from stores instead.

Other festival customs include tying of silk threads in five colors around children’s wrists to protect them from pestilences and evil, wearing of perfume pouches filled with medicinal herbs and hanging up fragrant mugwort and calamus on doors to deter pests common in the summer heat such as flies and mosquitoes and for good health.

I have been in a dragonboat race just for fun before in secondary school but I do not belong to any team since it involves hours of training under the hot sun. There are many dragonboat teams in Singapore and you would often see people carrying the oars on public transport on the way to practices. Unlike China, it is not a public holiday here but people will still celebrate on their own and there will be many sales promotion of zongzi everywhere. Zongzi are delicious but also rather filling and fattening.

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