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What Is The Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong?

The Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong (or Tuen Ng) is a spectacular summer holiday in the region. Extremely popular in China and even outside the country, the festival is rich with tradition. Dragon Boat racing is the main focus of Tuen Ng, giving the festival its name and unique competitive flair.

Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong- dragon boat races
Image by Edward Yeung

The Dragon boats for the races are adorned with large colorful flags and flowers. They race in the river to the beat of a drum, providing the viewers with an exciting and colorful sight. Westerners call the competition ‘Dragon Boat Races’ because of the way the boats look. Strongly resembling Chinese dragons, their long narrow bodies are decorated with a dragon’s head and tail. The average boat length is about 20–35 meters. Each boat can carry from 20 to 60 paddlers, a drummer and a steerer. Tradition says the winning team will receive good fortune the following year.

When is Dragon Boat Festival?

Want to know how you can become a part of this highly entertaining water sport? The good thing is that you don’t have to go all the way to China to enjoy the sight. Many major cities around the world hold their own local Dragon Boat Festivals.

Of course, Hong Kong is the heart of the celebration; it attracts thousands of international teams and hosts a series of events and races every summer. Besides that, other spectacular locations are Vancouver, Miami, Sydney, Phuket, Berlin, and Auckland.

The Dragon Boat Festival’s date is determined by the Lunar calendar. As such, it is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. However, on the Western calendar, it typically falls somewhere in May or June.

2018 Dragon Boat Festival – June, 18
2019 Dragon Boat Festival – June, 7
2020 Dragon Boat Festival – June, 25
2021 Dragon Boat Festival – June, 14
2022 Dragon Boat Festival – June, 3

Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong - prow of a dragon boat
Image by Dark Dwarf

Dragon Boat Festival History

Historians have different opinions about the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival. However, they all agree that the tradition emerged as far back as 2,500 years ago. The festival originated among fishing communities in Southern China. Initially, it was viewed as a folk ritual performed for rain gods, and to celebrate the summer rice planting.

According to a wide-spread legend, the Tuen Ng Festival commemorates Qu Yuan, a patriotic Chinese poet. Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (278 BC) in protest against government corruption. Then the villagers went out in boats to rescue his body, throwing sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) into the water to distract fish from eating it. In order to remember Qu Yuan, every year people get together and paddle in boats. They bang drums and eat zongzi dumplings as they once did to keep fish and evil spirits away from poet’s body.

Later, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Dragon Boat races were banned. Then in 1976, Hong Kong’s government revived the tradition to promote the water sport and boost tourism. Now the Dragon Boat Festival is observed all over the world. Over 60 countries take part in this entertaining, exciting, extremely competitive international sport.

Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong - race winners
Image by Edward Yeung

How To Celebrate Dragon Boat Festival?

Now, the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong is still about driving away evil and invoking good health. Zongzi, sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, is the traditional food of the holiday because it is commemorates Qu Yuan. Drinking Realgar wine, an authentic Chinese alcoholic beverage, is another symbolic custom said to chase away bad health and evils.

Finally, there are a plenty of Chinese inspired gift ideas that will help you celebrate the way of the dragon. Even for those who are celebrating the holiday away from home, or those avid dragon boaters who travel the world searching for adventures. Classic gourmet gift hampers, bursting with oranges or other fine fruits will fill your friends with the energy they need to celebrate. Wine gift baskets will keep the festive spirit alive as they share a glass (or two) with their loved ones. Pampering Spa and mouthwatering sweet gifts are just what they need to recover after a long day of boating. Make sure you send enough to share, as this holiday is one observed around family and friends.

What’s Your Way of The Dragon?

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