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Unpacking The Significance Of The Dragon Boat Festival In New Zealand

Ruth Kuo, journalist

Monday's Dragon Boat Festival is a mixture of two things that New Zealanders love: food and sports.

Celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year, the festival offers households in China and beyond an opportunity to enjoy a variety of zongzi (sticky rice dumplings).

The dumplings are packed with glutinous rice and a wide variety of savoury or sweet fillings, including red dates, pork and salted eggs.

Their taste and aroma of zongzi conjure up memories of childhood. Stores overflow with mountains of bamboo leaf packages, with some outlets hanging them in clusters in the window.

Almost everyone, it seems, is busy making, selling, buying and eating the seasonal delicacy.

At this time of year, families in China hang calamus and mugwort in their doorways to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.

People typically wear colorful silk threads and drink realgar wine (an alcoholic drink made from cereals) to guarantee good health and peace.

As the name suggests, the festival also features vibrant dragon boat races on rivers across China, an activity that participants and spectators enjoy in equal measure.

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Duanwu Festival, is one of China's oldest celebrations.

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It is believed the festival has been celebrated since the Warring States period in China (475-221 BC), making it more than 2,000 years old.

Shrouded in ancient rituals, it has been recognized as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The festival has several theories about its origin, but most believe that it can be traced to the death of an ancient Chinese poet named Qu Yuan.

Apparently devastated by the fall of his homeland - the state of Chu - to the invading Qin army, Qu Yuan drowned himself in Miluo River.

Locals launched boats to find him, throwing rice wrapped in leaves into the river to prevent fish from eating his body.

Although Qu Yuan's body was never found, his memory lives on in the dumplings and dragon boat races that are a pivotal part of the festival.

The festival also symbolizes a love for life and a desire to enjoy a better future.

People participate in Dragon Boat Festival celebrations in New Zealand.

The fifth lunar month is an important period of time for farmers in China.

Temperatures start to rise in early summer and rainfall increases, with the resulting heat and humidity making poisonous creatures such as snakes, scorpions and centipedes more active.

As a result, many families in China clean and disinfect their houses during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Family members use the time to take herbal baths and wear fragrant sachets to ward off evil spirits and keep illness at bay.

The Dragon Boat Festival is more than just a holiday - it is a cultural celebration filled with nostalgia and age-old traditions that protect people from ill health and bad luck.

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