People all over Asia are taking the day off from work today (June 9) to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. The holiday falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and has been observed for thousands of years.
Cities across the region will hold dragon boat races to mark the occasion. After months of training, teams of men and women will hop in elaborately decorated boats resembling the fire-breathing animal, paddling along a 500-meter course amid cheers of jiayou! (“add oil” or “go”) from onlookers.
In Hong Kong, more than 4,000 competitors from around the world will gather along Victoria Harbor to compete in the races.
In Taipei, over 100 teams will convene at Dajia Riverside Park for the event.
Mainland China did not recognize the Dragon Boat Festival as a public holiday until 2008, but cities across the country had been organizing races for years. Singapore, Vancouver, and Boston also hold annual races.
The public holiday’s true beginnings are disputed. But most link its origins to the death of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and minister who killed himself in 278 BC. According to legend, Qu’s followers would honor him by throwing rice into the river in which he drowned himself, but a dragon kept eating their offerings. Communicating from the great beyond, Qu recommended people should wrap the rice in leaves instead. This concoction is now the holiday’s signature snack—the zongzi, which is sticky rice stuffed with pork, egg yolks, nuts, or other foods.