Looking for something to do this weekend? Have Chinese neighbors or classmates you would like to get to know?
Go to a Dragon Boat Festival with them!
端午节 (duān wǔ jié) is a Chinese public holiday and is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional lunar calendar. That is June 20th this year, in case you aren’t up on your lunar calendar! Typically, people celebrate the festival by eating 粽子 (zòng zi), which are yummy sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves, and by racing dragon boats.
The holiday commemorates and early Chinese poet named Qu Yuan (屈原) who lived during the Warring States period. Qu was banished when the emperor allied with the political enemies of his patrons and much of his poetry was written during his exile. In the end, Qu was caught by his enemies and rather than be dishonored, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in a river.
Many of the holiday traditions arise from legends surrounding the local people’s response to his death. Stories are told that many of the local townspeople used boats to try to rescue Qu (the origin of the boat race), and when they were unsuccessful, they put sticky rice balls into the river to distract the fish from eating his body (the origin of zòng zi). Similar to President’s Day, Duan Wu is a significant public holiday for Chinese, but typically not one with a deep emotional connection.
For many years, Asian-American communities across the nation have held dragon boat races on or near the holiday, and these festivals can be a really fun way to connect with your Chinese neighbors. The festivals are usually bright, colorful, and lively; they also tend to be easy points of culturally connection for majority-culture Americans. Who doesn’t love good food and exciting competition on a beautiful summer day?
If you’ve been following our blog and are starting to get an itch to engage the Chinese communities in your city, this is one of the easiest (and most fun!) ways to do so. Ask your classmates or neighbors that you’ve been trying to get to know about it, and I bet they are going and would love to take you along. They might even be racing themselves!
In this post you can find a compilation of dragon boat festivals held across the country. It is by no means exhaustive, so if you don’t see your city, just try searching online. Some of these festivals are truly wonderful and will be very much Chinese led and organized – a little taste of China. Our festival here in Boston is a major event and every Chinese international student I know goes and participates.
However, not all of these festivals will be the same - some may be organized by smaller Asian communities or by Americans who simply know the joy of dragon boat racing. Whatever the type of festival, go! and take a Chinese friend with you. Even if it feels a little culturally off for your friend (imagine going to a Chinese run Texas barbeque cook-off as a New Yorker and you get the idea), they will feel loved and appreciated if you show a genuine interest in and respect for their culture. It will bless and honor them to let them talk about their hometown traditions!
Have fun, have at it, and happy Duan Wu Jie from the China Partnership!
Top 8 Dragon Boat Festivals in North America as listed by National Geographic:
Boston - http://www.bostondragonboat.org/
Denver - http://www.cdbf.org/
New York - http://www.hkdbf-ny.org/
Ottawa - http://www.dragonboat.net/
San Fransisco - http://www.sfdragonboat.com/index.php
Toronto - http://dragonboats.com/
Vancouver, Canada - http://dragonboatbc.ca/?rta
Dragon Boat Festival links nationwide:
Atlanta - http://www.dragonboatatlanta.com/
Austin - http://www.atxdragonboat.com/
Baltimore - http://www.baltimoredragonboatclub.com/
Charlotte - http://www.charlottedragonboat.com/
Cleveland, OH - http://www.cledba.org/
Columbus - http://asian-festival.org/dragonboat/
Houston - http://www.texasdragonboat.com/
Jacksonville - http://www.jacksonvilledragonboatfestival.com/
Kansas City - http://www.chinagardensociety-kc.org/dragonBoat.htm
Los Angeles (Long Beach) - http://www.lbdragonboat.com/
Louisville - http://www.louisvilledragonboat.com/
Miami - http://www.miamidragonboat.com/
Memphis - http://memphis.racedragonboats.com/
Milwaukee - http://www.milwaukeedragonboatfest.org/
Minneapolis - http://www.dragonfestival.org/
Nashville - http://nashvilledragonboat.org/
Pheonix - http://azdba.com/
Philadelphia - https://www.philadragonboatfestival.com/
Raleigh - http://dragonboatnc.wix.com/festival
San Diego - http://www.sddragonboatrace.com/
Seattle - http://seattledragonboatfestival.net/
St. Louis - http://www.gatewaydragonboat.org/
Tampa - http://www.panamdragonboat.com/
Tucson, Arizona - http://www.tucsonchinese.org/th_event/dragon-boat-festival-2/
Washington, DC - http://www.dragonboatdc.com/
Hannah Nation serves as the blog editor for the China Partnership. She is studying Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and works part-time with China Outreach Ministries, serving students in the Boston metro area. She first traveled to China in 2005 and has cared deeply for the country and its church ever since. Follow her personal blog here.