Hello Uncle Foreigner

Jul 1, 2018

Happy Dragon Boat Festival 2018

Celebrating Chinese holidays with kids!

In my mind, Dragon Boat Festival — or duanwujie, as it’s called in Chinese — is a somewhat nebulous festival. I mean, to some extent, I’m going to view all Chinese holidays from a remove, because they are often family activities, and my family isn’t here. Our first year here, our friend took us to a boat race, fed us zongzi and told us the story of Qu Yuan, and in the years since then, we’ve pieced together more of the story. But this year, by virtue of working in a kindergarten, where they are passing all this stuff on to the next generation, I got to see some customs that I hadn’t before had access to. A lot of rituals that have to do with keeping the body healthy and safe. And, my colleague Katherine came out to explain the holiday on video for all us waiguoren.

The biggest thing I learned — that after the fact seems totally obvious — is that Chinese holiday celebrations can be quite personal. They vary from region to region, and even from family to family. To that point, in the video, Katherine conflates two stories that are both part of the origin story of duanwujie — Qu Yuan, poet, and Wu Zixu, king’s advisor. They are both men who died by suicide in a river, according to lore, and are somehow connected with the holiday. Regardless, I’m beginning to think that neither of them are actually all that central to the holiday as it is actually celebrated by real people; every time a Chinese person has shared with me their legends, it’s because they looked something up on the Internet. Not because it was something connected to something they or their family did.

Anyway, next year, I’ll probably learn even more about it. Including that I was wrong about everything I concluded this year.