By Amy Gunia
June 7, 2019

Loud drumbeats will be heard near the shorelines of several major cities across Asia on Friday. Crowds will gather on beaches and river banks to cheer on rowers paddling furiously to the beat, trying achieve victory in boat races that mark a beloved holiday in Asia, the Dragon Boat Festival.

Friday’s Google Doodle — which depicts drummers on dragon-shaped boats — is a nod to the festival, also known as Duanwu in Mandarin and Tuen Ng in Cantonese.

Here’s what to know about the holiday, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar to mark the summer solstice.

Where is it observed?

People across Asia will be celebrating. Friday is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Other cities, like Singapore, will have races too.

What do people do to celebrate?

As the name suggests, dragon boat racing is an important tradition on the day. Rowers will gather to paddle in festive races in various waterways, with crowds gathering on shore to watch.

In China and a few other places, onlookers will drink local yellow wine and eat sticky rice dumplings called zongzi, which are wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves. The dumplings are filled with various toppings — in northern China they are typically filled with sweet red bean paste or taro, and in the south pork belly and mushrooms. Taiwanese versions are filled with ingredients like salted eggs, peanuts, chestnuts and squid.

What is dragon boat racing?

Twenty paddlers sit side by side in a long canoe-like boat, usually decorated with a dragon head and tail, facing a drummer who sits in the front of the boat drumming energetically to keep the rowers in time.

Races are typically around 500 meters (about 1600 feet), and last around 2-3 minutes, depending on the fitness of the team.

In cities like Hong Kong, anyone can participate. Professional and recreational teams of locals and foreigners who have taken a liking to the sport duke it out in a series of races that lasts most of the day.

Paddlers train for weeks, and sometimes months, in the lead up to the holiday.

What’s the history behind it?

Although dragon boat racing has been a part of Chinese culture for more than 2,000 years, it only became an official holiday again in 2008, following a long hiatus after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, when traditional celebrations like the festival were banned.

The holiday commemorates the death of Chinese poet and politician Qu Yuan, who is said to have drowned himself by walking into China’s Miluo River while holding a rock in 278 B.C.

Legend has it that villagers carried their boats into the river to save him, but got there too late. Instead, they banged drums to keep him safe from evil spirits and threw rice into the river to keep fish away from his body.

Now people gather each year on the anniversary of his watery death to commemorate him.

Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com.

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