The annual Dragon Boat Festival, one of the three major festivals in Taiwan along with Chinese New Year and Moon Festival, occurs each year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (usually during May or June). Visiting Taipei during the Dragon Boat Festival gives visitors a chance to experience firsthand some cultural traditions spanning back through generations.
Legend tells us that near the end of the Zhou Dynasty, patriotic Chinese poet Qu Yuan served as minister to the Emperor. While he was much loved by the people, Qu Yuan was envied by his fellow officials, who began spreading rumors about him until the Emperor began to distrust him. Qu Yuan was eventually exiled. During his travels in exile, where he wrote poetry, he was overtaken by sorrow when he learned that the Qing kingdom was defeating his beloved Zhou emperor. Qu Yuan threw himself into the Milou river where he drown. The local people organized search parties on the river, rowing up and down in search of the poet. The women threw rice balls into the water in hopes of preventing the fish from eating his body. Today, the Dragon boat races commemorate the life and death of Qu Yuan.
Photo courtesy of Harry Huang/Flickr
The Dragon boat races, the main event during the festival, pit teams of 22 against each other in races of various lengths. Twenty team members row, while one keeps rhythm with a drum and one steers the boat. Taipei’s International Dragon Boat Festival draws in over 200 teams from around the world in the largest competition on the island.
Photo courtesy of Alpha/Flickr
Throughout the festival, Taiwanese snack on Zhongzi, a glutinous rice ball stuffed with meat, mushrooms, beans, nuts, or egg and wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. The triangular pyramid-shaped snacks are sold throughout the festival grounds and on street corners throughout the city.
During the festival, keep an eye out for mugwort wreaths hung outside doors to Taiwanese homes. The decorative wreaths, made from mugwort, banyan twigs, and iris leaves, are thought to ward off evil spirits and promote good health. Similarly, many individuals, especially children, will wear colorful sachets filled with fragrant herbs to help drive away malicious spirits.