While we’re busy prepping for our holiday season, I figured I’d post something about a Chinese holiday. This is a culturally-rich and comfortably intermediate essay describing how one family celebrates the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duān wǔ jié. If you’re curious what the typical Chinese household does on this late-spring holiday (held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar), you’ll love this read. The customs described are quite unlike any holidays in the West.

Practice Reading Chinese - Easy Intermediate Chinese ReaderThe dragon boat festival is held in remembrance of poet Qu Yuan’s death. Qu Yuan was a faithful servant of his emperor, but was falsely accused of being a traitor. He drowned himself in a river after several decades in exile, but the local people loved him and remember him fondly. Sounds morbid, but actually the festival is a joyous one, where dragon boats are raced on the river (to commemorate the search for Qu Yuan’s body) and 粽子 zòng zi (boiled triangular rice balls wrapped in leaves) are eaten (when he died, it’s said that 粽子 were thrown into the river to feed him in the afterlife – other stories have it that people threw 粽子 into the river to keep the fish from eating his body before they could find it).

A couple of words in this essay are not in the dictionary, and need explaining: namely 艾香. I this case, 艾香 ài xiāng means “the smell of wormwood”, and it refers to the smell produced by bouquets of wormwood (艾草) that people hang on their door during the Dragon Boat Festival to drive away bad luck.

Another word here is 雄黄酒, something that I’ve seen but never tried, and while there is an English word for this, I’ve never heard this spoken in English. 雄黄酒 is “realgar wine”, whatever the heck realgar is. If you’re curious, this article has more information on realgar wine and it’s association with the Dragon Boat Festival.

And finally, there’s 趟露水, literally “to wade in the dew”, and it refers to (what I think is a) regional custom of going out on an early morning walk and anointing one’s face with dew drops. And without further adew (har!), the Chinese title of this essay is 我家的端午节.

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习俗 – xí sú – Custom, local tradition
捧 – pěng – To cup in the hands
晶莹 – jīng yíng – Sparkling and translucent
露珠 – lù zhū – Dewdrop
撒 – – (definition 1): To let loose, to let fly
解 – jiě – To break up, divide
撒 – – (definition 2): To sprinkle
津津有味 – jīn jīn yǒu wèi – With relish, with gusto
弥漫 – mí màn – to pervade, be diffused with
香喷喷 – xiāng pēn pēn – Savory
唇膏 – chún gāo – Lipstick
绳 – shéng – Rope





Today is the Dragon Boat Festival, my family got out of bed at 5:00, and in accordance with local customs, when up the mountain to wade in the dew. On the road, I used both hands to cup sparkling dewdrops and smear them on my eyes, for a moment I felt as if they [my eyes] were considerably brightened. I felt they remained extremely bright as I sat in the classroom and read books; I could see every word clearly.

When school let out, I let my legs loose and ran towards home. As soon as I reached the door I could smell the scent of zongzi, and as I entered I saw my father had made a whole table of delicious food that was just waiting for me to come home and eat it. I washed my hands and went to the dining table, first I broke open one zongzi each for father and mother and sprinkled them with white sugar, then I broke open a beautiful triangular zongzi for myself, sprinkled it with white sugar and heartily began eating. At the dining table, our family ate and chatted, the woom was full of Dragon Boat Festival good cheer, suffused with the savory smell of zongzi and thick with the smell of wormwood.

After we’d had eaten, mother spread realgar wine on my ears, put lipstick on my lips, placed [bracelets of] red rope around my wrists, and made sure I smelled as sweetly as a zongzi, then sent me off back to school to study.

I love eating zongzi, I loved the Dragon Boat Festival, and I love enjoying the holiday cheer.

5 comments to "My Family’s Dragon Boat Festival"

  1. Reply 长春办证 says: April 5, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Yeah, I think the same day you were there I was actually at Longwood Gardens to get some good fall pictures. My preparation for The Storm was to get some good photographs before Sandy blew all of the leaves off the trees!

  2. The room is spelt woom?

  3. I remember everything my teacher told us about the Dragon boat festival. It makes me want to go to China and get a first hand experience of the festival.

  4. I searched Realgar, and it appears to be an arsenic mineral. Growing up in China, I remember that the normal rice wine had a red waxy seal on the pottery jars. I wonder if Realgar wine is just rice wine, which each family made, and was drunk with most meals.

  5. Reply Ngọc Diệp says: November 23, 2019 at 2:42 am

    Dragon boat festival………..whẹn up the mountain ……….. Table of delicious food………. sprinkled ít with white sugar and heartily began eating…… eat heart?why?…….smelled as sweetly a a zongzi……….Why love eating zongzi?

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