The Boston Dragon Boat Festival takes place annually on the banks of the Charles River in Boston and Cambridge. Starting in 1979, Boston Dragon Boat Festival, the first and oldest such festival in North America, has grown from a small neighborhood event commemorating the death in 200 B.C. of the beloved Chinese poet-patriot Qu Yuan to the largest Asian-American cultural event in New England, drawing more than 30,000 participants and spectators each year.
Traditionally held on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar -- late May to mid June on the solar calendar (June 27th for 2009) -- the Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the life and death of the ancient patriot-poet Qu Yuan who lived from 340-278 B.C. Qu Yuan was a minister who advocated reforms in his home state of Chu. The King refused to listen to Qu Yuan's advice and instead banished him from the state of Chu. In exile, Qu Yuan wrote poetry expressing his concern for his country and people. In 278, when Qu Yuan heard that his home had been invaded, he drowned himself in the Mi Lo River.
The people of Chu rushed to the river to rescue him. Too late to save Qu Yuan, they splashed furiously and threw zung-ze, steamed rice wrapped in reed leaf, into the river as a sacrifice to his spirit and to keep the fish from Qu Yuan's body. Since that time, some 2,000 years ago, dragon boats are raced on rivers in China and people throw zung-ze into the river to honor the memory of Qu Yuan.
Even before Qu Yuan, the fifth moon was a time of danger. With the hot and wet weather of the summer came the perils of plagues and diseases. Parents embroidered designs of tigers eating poisonous insects on children's clothing to protect them from evil spirits. In addition, children wore herb and spice filled amulets around their necks to ward off insects. Chinese people consider themselves to be the descendants of dragons and so during the fifth moon feel it is appropriate to paddle boats with dragon designs and make sacrifices of zung-ze to cajole the river dragons.
EXCERPT FROM THE MOUNTAIN SPIRIT
“The man in the mountain, fragrant with sweet herb, Drinks from the rocky spring, shaded by pines and furs.You, my lord, are thinking of me, but then you hesitate. The thunder rumbles and the rain darkens; The gibbons mourn, howling all the night; The wind whistles and the trees are bare I am thing of the young lord; I sorrow in vain.”
~ Qu Yuan