By Casey Quackenbush
June 18, 2018

Seated inside a canoe shaped like a giant mythical creature, rowers thrash their oars into the sea, racing to the beat of a drumming captain. Monday’s colorful Google Doodle celebrates the Dragon Boat Festival, a holiday observed across parts of Asia and beyond with elaborately decorated vessels, delicious dumplings and offerings.

Also known as Duanwu in Mandarin and Tuen Ng in Cantonese, the festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese calendar and marking the summer solstice, ushering in a new season of health and well-being.

Why do people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

As legend has it, the holiday commemorates an exiled Chinese poet-official named Qu Yuan who is believed to have committed suicide. During China’s Warring States period, an era of division and conflict more than 2,000 years ago, China was divided into several kingdoms. Qu, a royal adviser in the state of Chu, tried warn the king of impending danger, only to be exiled. When Qu heard of the eventual invasion into his country, he drowned himself in despair in the Miluo River. In a bid to save him, locals paddled frantically through the water, beating drums to warn fish away from his body and tossing rice dumplings into the water as spiritual offerings. These rituals inspired the most popular holiday traditions today.

June 18th marks the beginning of the Dragon Boat Festival.
Google Doodle

How is the festival observed?

Rowers train for weeks, sometimes months, in the lead-up to the festival, when they load up on boats and race to a watery finish line. Others often sit on the sidelines and enjoy traditional sticky rice dumplings called zongzi. Wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves, the rice is mixed with flavors that vary by region. In northern China, zongzi are typically sweet, filled with a red bean paste or taro. In the south, they’re usually made savory with cured pork belly, sausage and mushrooms. In Taiwan, some are made with salted eggs, peanuts, chestnuts and squid.

Where do people celebrate?

While the Dragon Boat race is a longstanding Chinese tradition, China only reintroduced the holiday in 2008 after a major hiatus following the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when Chairman Mao Zedong banned many cultural traditions that predated his New China. Today, the Dragon Boat Festival is a public holiday in many parts of Asia, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, while traditions are also observed in Macao, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere.

Write to Casey Quackenbush at casey.quackenbush@timeinc.com.

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