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端午節 & 粽子 ― Everything you need to know about Dragon Boat Festival

Photo courtesy of the Beijinger

端午節 or most commonly known as Dragon Boat Festival, is a traditional Chinese folk festival that is celebrated every fifth day of the fifth lunar month. On that day, people eat 粽子 or zongzi and hold dragon-boat races. 粽子 is a pyramid-shaped dumplings made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves which was originally used to sacrifice and offer to ancestors and Gods. It was during the Qin dynasty that 粽子 became a festival food for 端午節. The custom of eating 粽子 has prevailed in China for thousands of years. Since then, this tradition has spread to neighboring countries including the Philippines.


Photo Credits to DragonBoat.PH, Nel Modina, Judith Hakim, Rhowie Enriquez, Annabelle Tario, and the International Dragon Boat

The main ingredients needed to make 粽子 are glutinous rice, bamboo leaves and stuffings ― meat, mushroom, and red beans. Usually, 粽子 comes in a triangular shape that is intricately prepared in order to have an aromatic and flavorsome result. Due to the large variety of eating habits across China, 粽子 has formed a north-south flavor; namely, salty 粽子 and sweet 粽子.

Zongzi or sticky rice dumplings or machang

Machang from Polland Hopia

Aside from eating 粽子, there are also other traditions celebrated during Dragon Boat Festival. 端午 is also known as 端五 ,重五節, 五月節, 女兒節, and more. Despite the several names of 端午節, the customs and traditions across China are largely the same. Celebrating 端午節 has been the tradition of Chinese people for more than two thousand years.  Due to the vast territory, various ethnic groups, and numerous stories and legends, this has led to not only having several names, but also several customs. Some of the customs includes married daughters returning to her parent’s home (女兒回娘家), wearing of colorful sachet pendant to ward off bad luck (佩香囊), dragon-boat race (賽龍舟), martial arts (比武) and the some other customs which have slowly disappeared. However, some of them, such as dragon boat race, have gained new development, breaking through time and geographical boundaries and has become an international sporting event.

All these activities and customs are said to commemorate the great patriotic poet, senior official and confidante to the emperor, Qu Yuan (屈原).He took an active role in maintaining the State of Chu’s politics which resulted to the jealousy of other politicians. They used malicious accusations against Qu Yuan to the emperor, resulting to his exile. Nonetheless, he still shows concern about his state. Later, upon knowing the news that Qin has defeated Chu, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in Miluo River on fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 278 BC.

In order to save Qu Yuan’s body, people rowed their boats across the river, but eventually failed. People then threw food to the river to prevent fishes from eating the corpse. This incident has then led the people to throw their food into the river and later, used zongzi as well. Thus the custom of eating zongzi and staging dragon-boat race was formed to commemorate Qu Yuan.

Here in the Philippines, 端午節 is also prevalent as the Philippine Dragon Boat Team annually participates in various international Dragon Boat Tournament. On the other hand, for most chinoys, they celebrate 端午節 by eating zongzi and gathering the whole family to celebrate the festival together.

So there you have it! Now you know how 端午節 & 粽子 came about. So now, how do you celebrate your 端午節? Share it with us in the comment section below!

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