Every year around this time our minds wander towards popular Chinese traditional festivals, considered to be beloved festivals of the Nian. Nian is the time of the spring and autumn festival. An important and beloved festival is the Duanwujie festival, also called the Dragon Boat Festival, which this year falls on June 6.
Many of us are living abroad don’t have access to a lunar calendar. The time passes without us realizing that another important traditional Chinese festival has been missed.
But, then there is this little chance that helps one remember. For example, something caught my eyes last week when shopping at one of the area’s major Chinese supermarkets, a “zongzi” (see photo) which looked a lovely shining green. It was wrapped in green leaves and I imagined a welcoming smile emanating towards me. Seeing this, I suddenly remembered and I realized that it must be close to the Duanwujie and the time for eating zongzi.
Zongzi (or zong) is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings such as sweet dates,red beans, meat,etc, and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves
I love zongzi and long for them, remembering that as a little girl we ate many different kinds during the Duanwujie festival. The most memorable ones were made with dates. But, naturally, there are so many different kinds and each will touch another taste bud.
Southern Chinese enjoy meat in them, which doesn’t do much for me, but who am I to tell others what they like or don’t. No matter ones preference, it is good to remember that zongzi is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice, stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves and traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival.
Reminiscing About the Past
As a youngster I lived with my grandmother. There was another grandmother, the mother of one of our neighbors, who made many kinds of zongzi. She was very busy during the Duanwujie, as she also made a chain like object called “lao-hu-da-la” (tiger train or necklace) in the Tianjin dialect and she put it around our necks. She told us with a twinkle in the eye that this was a good luck talisman and meant to prevent us from coming down with a sickness or disease.
I remember with a smile that it was made from cloth that was very colorful and sewn together with silk thread. That grandmother was very talented in making things and could make these things small and lifelike. They were rather exquisite. She made a yellow tiger that had eyebrows made with thread and painted eyes. My imagination thought that the front legs were ready to run. Then, she made small zongzis, as small as a thumb nail, dumplings, small brooms, and so much more to hang on that chain. It is difficult to remember every little thing, but much is coming back when reminiscing. Everything was such fun, attractive, and served to keep away evil spirits when hanging around a baby’s neck.
Ah, another good use for these chains is hanging them on the front door of ones home to keep evil away, stop people from drinking too much wine, and all those other things people are afraid off. Naturally, when they were used to hang on the door, they were made much bigger.
Remembering that time I realize that it is ingrained deep into my mind. Things that happened are unforgettable and will appear the minute I see something that mirrors the times when I was a youngster.
One Legend About Duanwujie
There are naturally many legends about Duanwujie, which were handed down through folklore over the ages. As a youngster I loved listening to those elderly people, especially when they told stories that spoke of the past.
Many stories have different versions, and were handed down from generation to generation, everyone believing that their legend was the true story of what happened in ancient times.
As the story goes, long time ago, a god decided to destroy a village by sending a disease. He sent an angel to mete out the punishment. When the angel arrived at the village he saw a village woman leaving the village holding an older child in her arms and a younger one walking next to her. The angel thought this to be strange, as normally the smaller or younger child was carried and the bigger child would walk. He decided to appear as an elderly man and ask her what was happening. She told him that the bigger one is not her son, but the little one is. He had lost his mother and so she had decided to keep him, because he needed a mother. You must have heard of the proverb “treasure other’s children as gold?” she told him.
The angel was deeply moved and thought to save her and not let her die. He told her why he was there and suggested how she could escape the punishment. He told her to hang up calamus and wormwood on her front door. He would recognize them and not bring disaster to her home.
The woman listened carefully, thanked the angel, returned to the village and warned all villagers. Everyone believed her and all did exactly as she had said. The entire village was saved from the disaster.
Since that time, what had saved the village became a ritual. Year after year on May 5, people clean the yard, hang calamus, wormwood, pomegranate, garlic and shandan, which are called five-Auspicious in heaven. This action is hoped to prevent a plague that would bring disaster to the entire village.
For the Duanwujie festival another popular name, as it is easier for Westerners to roll off their tongue, is the Dragon Boat Festival.
Its a story about Qu Yuan and speaks of a legend that has been handed down for more than two thousand years. The story originated in Chuguo, the name of a kingdom located where Sichuan is today. Qu Yuan was a Chinese poet, a statesman and diplomat.
Quyuan was the Sanlvdaifu, a high official, and wanted to protect his country from being invaded and destroyed by Qin dynasty. He suggested to his king, Chuhuaiwang, to join with the Qiguo Kingdom and resist the annexation by the Qin dynasty.
Alas, Prince Zilan, and the most favorite queen, Zheng Xiu, and another Premier, Jin Shang, were bribed by Qin officials and opposed the plan brought forward by Sanlvdaifu Qu Yuan. They slandered and intrigued against Qu Yuan, making up many lies.
Then, the Chuguo country was invaded by the Qin dynasty, the state destroyed and the inhabitants killed. Qu Yuan was very saddened, threw himself into the Miluo Jiang river and died.The people took their boats and searched for the Quyuan’s body. They threw rice balls into the river to feed the fish, so neither fish nor shrimp would bite his body.
Thus, the search by boat became today’s dragon boat race and the rice balls evolved into today’s dumplings, the zongzis.