Dragon Boat Festival History and Folklore

Dragon Boat Festival History and Folklore

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This article is part of our Dragon Boat Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.

The Dragon Boat Festival memorializes the patriot poet Qu Yuan and has long held an important place in China’s agrarian society. It’s one of the three big annual festivals designated for the living — the others are Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.



The Story of Qu Yuan

Qu Yuan was a poet and government official during the Warring States period more than 2,000 years ago. Once a trusted advisor to the Chu state ruler, Qu Yuan was banished to the countryside by court rivalry, where he wrote impassioned poems expressing his loyalty to the kingdom. Upon hearing of the Chu state’s defeat at the hands of the rival Qin, Qu Yuan became so distraught that he sacrificed himself in the rushing waters of the nearby Miluo River. Today, Qu Yuan is admired by the Chinese equally for his lyrical verses and for his unyielding patriotism.

The Dragon Boat Festival and the Lunar Calendar

The Dragon Boat Festival falls on a different date each year between May 27 and June 25. The holiday occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, explaining why one of its alternate names is the Double Fifth Festival.

The Dragon Boat Festival takes place during the height of summer. Back in ancient China, farmers held dragon boat races to appease the rain gods and ensure a bountiful rice harvest.

The summer sun and the festival’s namesake dragon are both symbols of masculine yang energy. The solstice explains the holiday’s second alternate name, the Duanwu Festival. Old traditions like drinking realgar wine and hanging a picture of the demon slayer Zhong Kui ward off bad luck.

When is the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival takes place every year between May 27 and June 25 on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. Most Chinese workers will receive three days off from June 20-22 to celebrate the holiday.

Workers receive one day off for the Dragon Boat Festival. Practically speaking, the Dragon Boat Festival is a three day holiday, with up to two of these days “made up” on either the preceding or following weekend.

Dragon Boat Festival dates through 2026 are below.

YearDate
2015June 20
2016June 9
2017May 30
2018June 18
2019June 7
2020June 25
2021June 14
2022June 3
2023June 22
2024June 10
2025May 31
2026June 19

HT: Photo by Asian in NY.

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