It’s not actually the “Dragon Boat Festival”
The proper name for the ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ is the Duanwu Festival 端午节 (Duānwǔ jié), which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.
The word 端 (Duān) comes from 开端 (kāiduān), which means “beginning”.
端五 ((Duān wǔ; the start of the fifth month) somehow evolved into 端午 over the years.
Duanwu also has at least 10 other names!
- 端阳节 (duānyáng jié) or 端日节 (duān rì jié)—both of which can be translated as “Start of the Sun Festival”
- 重午/重五 (chóng wǔ)—Repetition of Noon or 5th (because it’s the fifth day of the fifth month)
- 五月节 (wǔ yuè jié)—May Festival
- 五日节 (wǔ rì jié)—5th Day Festival
- 午日节(wǔ rì jié)—Noon Day Festival
- 夏节 (xià jié)—Summer Festival
- 天中节 (tiān zhōng jié)—Mid-Sky Festival
- 菖蒲节 (chāngpú jié)—Calamus (a kind of root vegetable) Festival
- 艾节 (ài jié)—Mugwort/Wormwood (a herb) Festival
And, our favorite name for the festival because it’s easy to remember and it involves food!
10. 粽子节 (zòngzi jié)—Rice Dumpling Festival
So Why Is It Called the “Dragon Boat Festival”?
More recent historical research indicates that 龙舟比赛 (Lóngzhōu bǐsài) dragon boat racing actually existed before Qu Yuan or Duanwu.
It’s believed that it’s a ritual descended from the 吳越族 (Wúyuè zú), an ancient ethnic group who lived on the banks of the Yangtze, that may be the ancestors of Southeast Asian peoples like the Malays and Vietnamese.
Whatever the true origins, racing in long dragon-headed boats to rhythmic drums is a colourful and integral part of Duanwu, and races are held in many Chinese communities. You might even have a team in your hometown that you can join!
Check these out so you can show off your knowledge about the Dragon Boat Festival!
- Why I Can’t Wish People “Happy Duanwu”
- The Ultimate Dragon Boat Festival Activity Video for Children (Bilingual)
- 9 Different Kinds of Zongzi to Make you Hungry This Zongzi Festival