China Elevator Stories

Why you shouldn’t wish a Happy Dragon Boat Festival and what to say instead

The story behind Dragon Boat Festival is not a happy one.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


Today is Dragon Boat Festival. Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated annually on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, which usually falls on a day in June.

When we left our apartment last year in the early morning of Dragon Boat Festival, we found mugwort leaves hung on the outside of our door and car. Our then 11-month-old son soon found himself decorated with the leaves as well and five colour silk threads on both of his arms, legs and around his neck.

Chinese wristband - Ruth Silbermayr

My in-laws had been up since the wee hours of the morning preparing Zongzi (sticky rice cakes stuffed with jujube) and even came over to our apartment to hang up mugwort outside. Mugwort is supposed to keep diseases away (the smell of mugwort is said to keep mosquitoes away) and is also put on the silk threads in little bags.

Although Dragon Boat Festival is considered a happy occasion to celebrate with family members, the story behind it isn’t as happy as the celebrations convey.

Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate the official and poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC) who lived in the State of Chu. He was an advisor to the King of Chu, but fell from grace and was sent into exile. The King didn’t listen to his advice and the State of Chu was eventually invaded by the State of Qin. Upon hearing these news, Qu Yuan is said to have drowned himself in the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. People rowed boats out onto the river but couldn’t find him. In order to keep fish from eating his dead body, they’d throw sticky rice cakes into the water for them to eat instead.

Many Chinese will wish each other a “Happy Dragon Boat Festival”. But the story above is the reason why wishing someone a “Happy Dragon Boat Festival” is considered inappropriate by others. Instead of saying “Happy Dragon Boat Festival” (端午节快乐), you can wish each other good health for Dragon Boat Festival (端午安康).

I wish you a healthy Dragon Boat Festival!

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