The Dragon Boat Festival actually has quite a sad backstory. The festival began as a way to commemorate the passing of a Chinese poet and minister. Qu Yuan committed suicide after suffering at the hands of his peers, who spread false rumors about him destroying his reputation in the process. He threw himself into a river and, although some fishermen raced to his aid, they were too late. The locals then threw rice dumplings (zongzi) into the river to stop fish from eating his body. It’s a rather depressing tale, but one that has inspired a festival that is now celebrated throughout the world.
Believe it or not, legend has it that at midday on Dragon Boat Festival day, you can balance an egg on its end. And yes, it does actually work! They say that if you can make an egg stand up on this day, you will have good luck for the year. The reason it works is probably due to the fact that it’s the summer solstice, and at around noon on this day the sun’s pull on the Earth is at its strongest. And eggs apparently stand on end because of it.
A Xiang Bao is a perfumed sachet that kids often wear during the festival, but it’s okay for adults to wear them, too. They are believed to be good luck and to help ward off evil spirits, and have the added bonus of keeping pesky mosquitoes at bay. This traditional craft is usually made out of cloth, ribbon, or paper, and filled with fragrant herbs and powders more commonly associated with Chinese medicine.
Dragon Boat races take place throughout the world during the festival, and, of course, in Taiwan there are plenty of places to catch a race or two. Here, there are international competitions with boats coming from all over the world to compete against local teams. It’s a great spectacle, and tourists can usually find a race on in any of the major cities.
Most festivals in Taiwan have some kind of custom to ward off evil, and Dragon Boat Festival actually has two: the Xiang Bao mentioned earlier, and hanging of Calamus and Moxa outside the house. These plants are said to be particularly pungent to evil spirits, and so hanging both outside the front door of the house has become one of the most traditional customs for the holiday.
No festival in Taiwan is complete without a family meal, and although Dragon Boat Festival isn’t quite the reunion type of celebration that Moon Festival and Chinese New Year are, it’s still a great excuse for a family get-together. As a public holiday, it’s also an excellent opportunity for locals to visit their hometown, especially if the holiday falls near the weekend.
This is without a doubt the most notable of all the traditions surrounding this holiday. Locals simply cannot let the day pass without eating this glutinous sticky rice dish. Zongzi in Taiwan fall into two categories – sweet and savory. The savory variety is the most popular and usually contain nuts, egg, and meat. Both are triangular in shape, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied together with string, and taste delicious.