May 31, 2008
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival or Duan Wu Jie in Chinese, falls on the 5th day of the 5th month? according to the lunar calendar (usually in June). It is one of the three major holidays in Taiwan along with Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and like the Mid-Autumn Festival has its origins in the changing of the seasons.?
 

The underlying and ancient customs seen during Dragon Boat Festival are based on driving away evil spirits and disease, this being particularly relevant as the “hot season” is thought to being on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. With the heat, disease would have become more prevalent, especially along waterways.

 
To a large extent these origins have been forgotten, although they exist in many of the customs still seen during the festival, such as carrying sachets (hsiang bao) containing herbs and spices called are thought to ward off disease. These sachets are typically red and come in many designs such as flowers, birds and animals and are a favorite with children.?
 
 
The dragon boat races themselves are alleged to have originated to give the traditional rituals a more festive atmosphere, and later became connected to Qu Yuan. Nowadays, this is what most people associate the festival with, so you might well surprise and impress your Taiwanese friends with your in-depth knowledge!
 

As legend has it, at the time there lived a popular poet/minister called Qu Yuan. As often seems to happen, the emperor received some bad intelligence slandering the poet and so banished Qu Yuan who was heartbroken.

 
After 20 years of exile and watching his state falling apart, he became so distraught that he decided to take his own life. Tying a rock to himself, he jumped into the Mi Luo river and drowned.
 
Local fisherman rowed out to try and save him, banging drums to scare the river spirit into returning him and throwing rice cakes into the river to prevent fish eating his body.
 
Today this is remembered by the eating of rice cakes (or dumplings) (zong zi). Zong zi are glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in a bamboo leaf with various different fillings, commonly fatty pork, dried shrimp, mushrooms and egg yolk, although there are many different kinds available now. As soon as they become available this year I’ll post some photos. If you are in Taiwan during Dragon Boat Festival, you must try them. With a bit of sweet chili sauce they are delicious, but don’t eat more than two, they can take a bit of digesting!
 

 
Dragon boats races can be seen all over the island and often attract teams from overseas. In Taipei, the Hsintien River in Bitan is probably the most popular destination, and you can easily get there by MRT.

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During each race, dragon boats race to reach a flag. The first team to pluck the flag from the holder wins. It’s colorful and fun, and certainly worth a trip to watch.
 

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Top traditional Dragon Boat Festival traditions:?

  1. Children wear scented sachets (hsiang bao)
  2. Try and stand an egg on its end at noon (for luck)
  3. Hang calamus (water sword plant) and mugwort (moxa) around your front door
  4. Adults drink hsiung huang wine* and "king" (wang) is written with it on children's foreheads
  5. Fetching well-water at noon
  6. Putting up pictures of zhong guei (a demon slayer)

?* To be drunk in small doses! This wine is actually a mineral hsiung huang dissolved in rice wine. Hsiung huang is also known as realgar or more by its chemical name of red arsenic sulphide!!


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