Everything You Need to Know about Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan

Falling on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday that involves racing Dragon Boats, eating zongzi and more

What is it?

Dragon Boat Festival is a three-day holiday that commences on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar – this year it is June 7-9. Also known as Double Fifth Festival, Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwujie 端午節) is a holiday that involves racing Dragon Boats, drinking realgar wine and eating sticky rice dumplings known as zongzi (粽子). However, there is a lot more to this holiday than most people realize.

Sticky rice dumplings
Sticky rice dumplings

The festival’s origins date back to southern China more than 2,000 years ago and come from the tale of the death of celebrated poet and minister Qu Yuan (屈原). Exiled from the state of Chu for supposed treason, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. Locals rushed out in boats to try and save him, dropping sticky rice into the water to keep the fish from eating his body – hence the modern-day traditions of eating zongzi and racing Dragon Boats.

Dragon Boat Festival customs in Taiwan

There are several customs observed during the holiday, some more widely participated in than others. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the more common ones so that you’re not left scratching your head at what’s going on over the upcoming Double Fifth weekend.

1.Dragon Boat races

Dragon Boat Festival dragon boat race (image source: 臺南市國際龍舟錦標賽)

While Dragon Boat racing may sound like something out of Game of Thrones, it’s actually a tradition originating from the attempts to save Qu’s body. An impressive spectacle, the boats are traditionally between 50 and 100 feet long and usually have a drummer onboard beating a rhythm for the crew to row to. Read on to find out where you can see a Dragon Boat race for yourself in Taiwan.

2.Eating Zongzi

Sticky rice dumplings (Zongzi)
Sticky rice dumplings (Zongzi)

Zongzi are pyramid-shaped parcels of sticky rice wrapped in a bamboo or reed leaves. Normally eaten without any other fillings, there are variations on the traditional zongzi recipe, including additional fillings of meat, egg yolk or bean paste. To get your zongzi fix in Taiwan pay a visit to your nearest night market, or sign up for a culinary tour.

3.Egg-balancing

People try to balance an egg at noon on Dragon Boat Festival to wish for good fortune. (Image source: Flickr PipperL)

If you can make an egg balance on its end at exactly 12 noon on the day of Double Fifth you will supposedly receive good luck for the following year. Best buy some eggs and get practicing!

4.Warding off disease and evil spirits

Warding off disease and evil spirits
Warding off disease and evil spirits

There are various ways people will try and fight disease and spirits over the Dragon Boat Festival period. These include wearing perfumed medicine bags, hanging mugwort and calamus plants on doors and windows and braiding five colors of silk onto the wrists of children. Do these methods actually work? You’ll have to try them for yourself…

Activities to take part in during the festival

There’s a lot going on over the holiday weekend in Taiwan this year. Here are some of the best ways to celebrate on the island in 2019.

1.Taipei Dragon Boat Festival

Taipei Dragon Boat Festival
Taipei Dragon Boat Festival

Taipei Dragon Boat Festival is three days of activities celebrating all things Duanwujie. The 2019 Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship will take place over the course of the three days, with the finals being held between 8.30am and 4.10pm on Sunday 9. There will also be a variety of stage performances, a cosplay show and a midair egg balancing contest – as if egg balancing didn’t seem tricky enough already. Check out the festival’s official website for the full schedule, location and more details.

2.Lukang Dragon Boat Festival

Lukang Dragon Boat Festival
Lukang Dragon Boat Festival

The festivities at Lukang Dragon Boat Festival in Lukang township in the west coast county of Changhua kicked off last month, but it’s unsurprisingly over the Duanwujie weekend when the main celebrations and activities are taking place. The largest festival of its kind in the country, expect traditional Dragon Boat races, a lantern display, a feast and more. Full details here.

3.Tainan International Dragon Boat Championships

Tainan International Dragon Boat Championships
Tainan International Dragon Boat Championships

Tainan’s annual Dragon Boat Championships held at Anping Canal. As well as Dragon Boat races, there will be a host of street performances, traditional activities such as egg-painting and sachet making, as well as more unique activities such as an astronomy lecture. The banks of the canal will be lined with vendors selling traditional night market-style snacks to give you that authentic Taiwanese experience. Visit their official Facebook page to find out more.

4.Kaohsiung Love River Dragon Boat Festival

Kaohsiung Love River Dragon Boat Festival

Kaohsiung’s big Dragon Boat celebration has all sorts going on this year. There will be a painting and photo contest, national defense education activities, a Dragon Boat tug of war, street performances, food stalls and, of course, Dragon Boat Races. Find more information here

So, yeah, that’ pretty much all you need to know about this year’s Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan. Don’t eat too many zongzi and enjoy your holiday!