Must-Know Dragon Boat Festival Customs and Vocabulary in Chinese | 端午節(Duānwǔ jié)

Dragon boats

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Double Fifth Festival, is a traditional holiday which occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. In 2021, that day is June 14th. The Dragon Boat Festival is a major holiday in several Asian countries, notably those with large Chinese communities such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia/Singapore, and Vietnam.

So what do you know about the Dragon Boat Festival? Dragon boat racing? Eating zongzi? How about the history behind them? Today, you will learn about the story behind the festival as well as some useful vocabulary to discuss it! 

Dragon Boat Festival customs 

  1. Eating Zongzi: Zongzi are a kind of sticky rice dumplings made with glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in a leaf, typically bamboo leaves or reeds. This is the most common custom of the Dragon Boat Festival in its modern practice  

  2. Dragon Boat races:  Teams of eager rowers representing various organizations or localities fill ornately carved long boats painted to look like dragons. During the race, there is a drummer at the head of each boat beating a rhythm for the crews to follow. It’s an incredibly competitive sport, with the more serious teams preparing months in advance.

  3. Egg-balancing: Try to balance an egg on its end at exactly noon on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. If you manage to succeed, it is believed that you will receive one full year of good luck!

  4. Wearing fragrant sachets: This is an old tradition that children wear fragrant sachets in order to repel insects and ward off evil. 

  5. Hanging Wormwood on Doors or Windows: Similar to wearing fragrant sachets, people believe that hanging wormwood on your doors or windows will drive evil spirits and diseases away. However, most young people generally don’t follow these customs nowadays as they think it is a superstition.

Origins of the Dragon Boat Festival

Although there are competing narratives around its origins, The most widely accepted belief is that the festival commemorates the death of the patriotic poet and minister Qu Yuan of the Chu Kingdom during the Zhou Dynasty. Qu Yuan was exiled from Chu Kingdom on suspicion of treason. After years in exile, he was devastated when he heard that the Chu Kindom fell, and he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.  

As Qu Yuan was greatly admired by the local people, it is said that a lot of people raced out in their boats to save him when they heard the news-this is believed to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Many people also dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan's body- this is believed to be the origin of making and eating zongzi.

Dragon Boat Festival: Relevant Chinese Words & Phrases 

1. Dragon Boat Festival – 端午節(Traditional Chinese) / 端午节(Simplified Chinese) duānwǔ jié

今年的端午節在六月十四日。(Traditional Chinese) 今年的端午节在六月十四日。(Simplified Chinese) Jīnnián de Duānwǔ jié zài liù yuè shísì rì.

The Dragon Boat Festival is on June 14th this year.

2. Dragon Boat Racing – 划龍舟 / 划龙舟 huà lóngzhōu

划龍舟比賽非常精彩。(Traditional Chinese) 划龙舟比赛非常精彩。(Simplified Chinese) Huàlóngzhōu bǐsài fēicháng jīngcǎi.

The dragon boat race is very exciting.

3. Zongzi / Sticky rice dumpling – 粽子 Zòngzi

每年端午節媽媽都會準備粽子。(Traditional Chinese) 每年端午节妈妈都会准备粽子。(Simplified Chinese) Měinián Duānwǔ jié māmā doū huì zhǔnbèi zòngzi.

My mom prepares zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival every year.

4. Traditional festival – 傳統節日 /  传统节日 Chuántǒng jiérì

端午節是最重要的傳統節日之一。(Traditional Chinese) 端午节是最重要的传统节日之一。(Simplified Chinese) Duānwǔ jié shì zuì zhòngyào de chuántǒng jiérì zhī yī.

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals.

5. Lunar calendar – 農曆  /  农历 Nónglì

端午節在每年農曆的五月五號。(Traditional Chinese) 端午节在每年农历的五月五号。(Simplified Chinese) Duānwǔ jié zài měinián nónglì de wǔ yuè wǔ hào.

The Dragon Boat Festival is on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

6. Custom – 習俗  /  习俗 xísú

端午節有很多傳統習俗。(Traditional Chinese) 端午节有很多传统习俗。(Simplified Chinese) Duānwǔ jié yǒu hěnduō chuántǒng xísú.

There are many traditional customs at the Dragon Boat Festival.

7. National holiday – 國定假日  /  国定假日 Guódìng jiàrì

端午節是台灣的國定假日。(Traditional Chinese) 端午节是台湾的国定假日。(Simplified Chinese) Duānwǔ jié shì Táiwān de guódìng jiàrì.

The Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday in Taiwan.

8. Fragrant sachets – 香包  xiāngbāo

戴香包是端午節的傳統習俗。(Traditional Chinese) 戴香包是端午节的传统习俗。(Simplified Chinese) Dài xiāngbāo shì Duānwǔ jié de chuántǒng xísú.

Wearing fragrant sachets is a traditional custom of the Dragon Boat Festival.

9. Egg-balancing – 立蛋  lìdàn

如果你在端午節中午十二點立蛋,你會得到好運。(Traditional Chinese) 如果你在端午节中午十二点立蛋,你会得到好运。Simplified Chinese) Rúguǒ nǐ zài Duānwǔ jié zhōngwǔ shí'èr diǎn lì dàn, nǐ huì dédào hǎo yùn.

If you balance an egg at noon on the Dragon Boat Festival, you will receive good luck.

9. Celebrate – 慶祝 / 庆祝  qìngzhù

我們吃粽子來慶祝端午節。(Traditional Chinese) 我们吃粽子来庆祝端午节。(Simplified Chinese) Wǒmen chī zòngzi lái qìngzhù Duānwǔ jié

We eat zongzi to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.

10. Happy Dragon Boat Festival  – 端午節快樂 / 端午节快乐  Duānwǔ jié kuàilè

祝你端午節快樂!(Traditional Chinese) 祝你端午节快乐!(Simplified Chinese) Zhù nǐ Duānwǔ jié kuàilè!

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

11. Superstition  – 迷信 míxìn

大部分的年輕人覺得在門上掛艾草是迷信。 大部分的年轻人觉得在门上挂艾草是迷信。 Dàbùfèn de niánqīng rén juédé zài ménshàng guà àicǎo shì míxìn.

Most young people think that hanging wormwood on doors is superstitious.

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