|Not a Dragon Boat. This was a beached party boat up north from our vacation.|
I knew about Dragon Boat races because when I was in high school we lived in Taiwan, and the races are VERY BIG there. I usually got home for summer vacation just in time to watch the races on TV. I have to say, a Dragon Boat race is more interesting to watch than the Indy 500, which is also this weekend!
Mind you, Dragon Boat Festival doesn't always coincide with Memorial Day weekend in the States. Something new that I learned now that I live in China: It's the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese are very big on double digits. 5-5. It's auspicious!
... which is why the patriot-poet Qu Yuan chose it as the day to kill himself by jumping in a river.
That's right. There was political craziness going on, and he had been exiled from his home, and rather than watch "the wrong people" take over, he offed himself.
People celebrate by eating Zongzi - a kind of sweet sticky rice ball - and watching the Dragon Boat races.
Why sticky rice? Because Qu Yuan was so beloved that after he jumped in the river, his mourning fans threw in rice so the fish would eat the rice and leave his body alone. (so says the legend)
I'm kind of vague on the history behind the races, but it has something to do with keeping the River Dragon away from him. I know there are 20 oarsmen, a "sweep" and a "caller". The sweep steers from the bow, and the caller beats out the rhythm on a drum in the stern. Nowadays, it's a symbol of getting rid of the bad. This is considered a day to take care of health and hygiene, to chase away disease and evil spirits. With Dragons. Or something.
I think, like so many traditions based in history, this is only one of several reasons for the holiday, but of the few I've heard, this is the only story that incorporates all the elements. I know there are different statesmen celebrated in different regions, who also died on the same day, but I don't think dragons are tied to those stories. I could research it, but really? I like this story!