The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional holiday originating in China that is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. It has now become a global phenomenon that is celebrated not only in other East Asian countries but among Chinese communities internationally. This year, we’ll be celebrating on June 25th.
On this day, a number of special customs are observed to commemorate the legend of the great poet Qu Yuan. Naturally, the most famous of these is the dragon boat race itself, which sees beautifully decorated boats take to the water for an adrenaline-fueled competition. You can now catch these races all over the world in places such as the USA, Canada and Australia as well as in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Other popular traditions associated with the festival include eating local Chinese treats called Zongzi and hanging special herbs around the home to ward off bad spirits.
Celebrating festivals is a wonderful way for families to spend some quality time together while exposing their children to new elements of another culture. Here are a few ways to get the kids involved in the festive spirit and teach them about this fascinating celebration of Chinese culture:
The Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 (duānwǔ jié) has a rich history which has been celebrated for over 2000 years. While there are various interpretations of the legend behind this festival, it essentially commemorates Qu Yuan, a patriotic minister and poet who wrote many poems dedicated to his beloved China. Child-friendly resources like this animation can be used to help explain the story in a way that appeals to the little ones. Traditional rhymes are another excellent way to share the story in a memorable way.
Wǔ yuè wǔ shì duānwǔ，
xiǎopéngyǒumen lái tiàowǔ
Chī zòngzi, sài lóngzhōu，
gāo gāoxìng xìngguò duānwǔ
5th of May is the Dragon Boat Festival.
Children are dancing,
Eating rice dumplings, racing dragon boats,
Happily over the Dragon Boat Festival
Zòngzi粽子 is a traditional pyramid-shaped snack made with glutinous rice, bamboo leaves and various fillings such as sweet bean paste, peanuts, shrimp or mushrooms. These delicacies are a bit of an institution at the Dragon Boat Festival. Fun to make, these tasty treats are sure to be a hit with the little ones! Here is a simple recipe you can try with the children.
During the Dragon Boat Festival families traditionally give each other bracelets made of five coloured threads. The five colours represent the elements – metal 金 jīn, wood木mù, water水shuǐ, fire火huǒ, and earth土tǔ – and are believed to work together to keep bad spirits away. Kids love arts and crafts so why not get creative with a little project which teaches them more about the culture surrounding the festival.
Besides the Dragon Boat race itself, one of the most fun pastimes for this holiday is balancing eggs. The Dragon Boat Festival falls on Duanwu, the longest day of the year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. It is believed that because of certain solar properties associated with this day, it is possible to make an egg stand on its end. Whoever is able to actually do this is said to be blessed with good luck for the rest of the year. Balancing eggs is a memorable learning exercise that is sure to enrich your child’s cultural knowledge.
And last but not least, get into the real spirit of the festival by cheering on the vibrant dragon boats as they compete in this spectacular race. While there may not necessarily be an actual dragon boat race taking place nearby, you can always get some online footage and watch it with the kids.
Alternatively, have the kids create their own version of the dragon boat race by making their very own colourful dragon boats.
The Dragon Boat Festival is a vibrant celebration of Chinese culture and a great opportunity for children to engage with rich local traditions. Providing this type of cultural context is a key element of language learning, especially for parents who are raising bilingual children. Festivals and traditional celebrations are a truly fantastic way to expose kids to Chinese culture in a memorable way.
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