All About the Dragon Boat Festival

What’s best paired with rice dumplings and realgar wine? Dragon boats, of course! Each year, millions across the world come together to celebrate Duanwu Jie – otherwise known as the Dragon Boat Festival. In addition to delicious food and delightful activities, there’s a special reason why China established this annual holiday.

Whether you’re looking for a way to expand your cultural horizons or searching for something to celebrate this month, Duanwu Jie is fun and fascinating. Take a look at the history and celebrations behind the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, which happens on June 25, 2020.

How Did Duanwu Jie Originate?

The most commonly referenced tale for Duanwu Jie dates back to 278 B.C. Qu Yuan was a poet and politician who lived through the Warring States period within the Zhou Dynasty. He served as King Huaiwang’s Left Minister, which allowed him to advise on important matters. Yuan came up with an idea to align his state, Chu, with another called Qi. Together, they would defeat the more powerful Qin.

Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t go as planned. Many other officials spread a lie that stated Yuan had committed treason, so he was banished to the wilderness by the king’s successor. He wrote many poems at this time. Soon, Yuan heard that Qin had conquered Chu. Because he’d tried to prevent that exact scenario, Yuan felt so sorrowful that he drowned himself on the fifth day of the fifth month.

To honor him, locals traveled up and down the Miluo River as they pounded drums and threw rice to ward off evil souls. When they couldn’t recover his body, they also poured realgar wine into the water to kill any monsters. Eventually, Yuan turned into a water spirit. He told the people to wrap their rice with leaves and bamboo so that underwater dragons couldn’t eat it.

There are also other origin legends told throughout Chinese communities, but Yuan’s story remains the most well-known.

What Traditions Happen Today?

What is the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival? It always occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Calendar. The people who celebrate this holiday do so with many unique traditions that relate to Yuan’s tale.


People eat zongzi, a sticky rice dumpling filled with sweet or savory ingredients like dates and eggs. They also drink realgar wine, a yellow wine doused with a distinctive mineral – many people know this drink as rice wine. Most notably, individuals race dragon boats to search the water for Yuan’s body. Other popular foods include cherries and mulberries, as well as rose pie labeled as “Five-Poison Cake.”

Want to celebrate yourself? Why not try your hand at the art of making your own dumplings? Activities that involve your hands are shown to boost mood — and the results are delicious!


The fifth lunar month holds a particular significance for many individuals. People throughout China and other Asian countries believe that this period brings misfortune – plagues and disasters, for example. In the Shandong Province, Linqing children wear wheat straw necklaces and pomegranate flower headpieces to dispel poisonous insects.

Want to join in on June 25? Try crafting your own flower headpiece to improve your own fortune.

Other Customs

Some regions put on their own activities, as well. Parents may make braided silk bracelets with five intertwined colors for their children. Many areas also cook food that features five ingredients, like congee, a classic rice porridge made with five different beans. The number five symbolism refers to the fifth day of the fifth month. It’s also common to hang wormwood and calamus plants from door frames to shield your house from evil spirits.

These traditions are the most popular throughout China, but it’s not unusual to find other practices throughout various Asian countries. Why not choose your favorite customs and join in the celebration?

A Celebration of Loyalty, Honor and Virtue

For thousands of years, communities have celebrated Yuan’s patriotism with the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. On June 25, 2020, they’ll continue to do so with their favorite customs. How will you celebrate Duanwu Jie this year?