Happy Dragon Boat Festival

I recently read an article written by a mother exhausted from all the holidays her children were celebrating. As I remember it, she was partly exhausted by the Pinterest-ing of holiday merry-making and more generally, that things like the 100th day of school have now become A Thing. Totally justified. I think it was St. Patrick’s Day (so recently is a relative term) and her kids were expecting some leprechaun-type character to Irish jig it into their living room in the dead of night and leave treats for their precious sleepy heads. At the time, I remember agreeing with her about every point – the Elf on the Shelf madness, the Easter bunny taking cues from Santa Claus, the Valentine’s Day hoopla – all resulting in this undue pressure to have cute hand made cards, elaborate cupcakes and fancy favors for all occasions. Right on, exhausted mother! Amen! You go girl! Fight the Man! Cancel Christmas!

Or wait…don’t. I actually like Christmas.

Perhaps it’s the sunshine and warmer weather or perhaps it’s nostalgia you feel for the most wonderful time of year when it’s a good 6 months away and you don’t have to worry about all it’s Yuletide baggage. But let’s not blame the holidays. Holidays are good. Most cultures are defined by their holidays. And in most places, there is probably a holiday at least monthly. It’s not the frequency of holidays that’s the problem but how we, as Americans, celebrate them. I blame it on the Food Network, Pinterest and social networking. (I’m not on Pinterest, mind you, but in my head it’s like having Martha Stewart peeping over my shoulder all day reminding me of my inadequacies as a mother and home-maker.)

Next week is the Dragon Boat Festival (a.k.a. Double Fifth Day). It is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (hence, Double Fifth).  The holiday dates back to the third century BCE. Qu Yuan was an intellectual, poet and statesman, in the Kingdom of Chu. Like wise men of all ages, in all cultures, he was perceived as a threat, accused of false charges of conspiracy, and eventually exiled by the King. While exiled, he wrote poems and his popularity among the people grew. He drowned himself by attaching a stone to his chest and his loyal devotees tried, in vain, to save him. The Dragon Boat Festival is in honor and remembrance of Qu Yuan and those who tried to rescue him. (Stories vary, by region, as to the origin of the festival but the story of Qu is supposedly the most commonly accepted.)

It’s been celebrated for centuries but only became a state recognized holiday in 2008. There are three ways to celebrate: 1. race a dragon boat (duh); 2. Eat zongzi; 3. Drink realgar wine.

Dragon boats are paddle boats shaped and decorated like a dragon. They can vary in size and decoration but a ceremony is performed before the race to “bring the boats to life by painting the dragon eyes.” Supposedly they can range from 40-100 feet in length. Zongzi are rice dumplings. They wrap sticky rice and filling in a bamboo leaf, tie it up and steam it. As the story goes, they put these rock-like rice balls in the river where Qu Yuan drowned so that the fish would eat the rice instead of his body. Realgar wine is thought to be medicinal but also contains arsenic sulfide which is potentially toxic. Cheers!

So maybe the Chinese do get carried away with their dragon boat making or zongzi cooking and I just don’t see it. Maybe there is a Chinese mother out there writing about how she just can’t stomach all the pressure of yet another holiday and I’m bashing my own native people for something that is actually a worldwide phenomenon: the Over-Celebrating and Increasing Materialism Surrounding Holidays Syndrome.  But I don’t know.  Here, it feels like there are more holidays but they are less “intense.”

Last weekend was “Children’s Day.” We went to one of the malls here where they had set up poorly executed “play” areas. (It was as if, in a city of 23 million, they weren’t expecting crowds.) A couple of shops were handing out little cookies or balloons but that was it. There was no worrying if you bought your kid enough “stuff”, no stressing that the cookies were not home made, shaped like the cast of Sesame Street characters (gasp!), and no tantrums about the former two points.

My one Chinese friend has downplayed most of the holidays we’ve celebrated here. She said there’s usually a particular food you eat and maybe a couple of traditions people observe but she couldn’t understand why or how people would get “stressed” because of a holiday. I think her exact words were, “this is a strange idea.” But this is a one in a billion opinion so…

I’m not Chinese and I’m celebrating these holidays as a foreigner. Perhaps the ease with which these holidays come and go is not true for most Chinese. Perhaps they are slaving away making their zongzi and trying to outdo each other with crafty dragon boats. In which case it’s just that the world has gone mad and we need to break the internet.

P.S. When trying to find more info about the festival, you’d be surprised at how many US cities celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. Quick, go pin some ideas about how you can one-up your neighbors in celebrating!

P.S.S. To all the father’s out there…this is not some lame attempt to downplay your big day or to suggest that you should not be showered with all the wealth and materialism this mad, mad world has to offer. Gold watches and silk ties all around!

Stolen from the internet:

zongzi

Zongzi

Dragon-Boat

Dragon boat racing

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