The fifth day of the fifth Chinese month (June 20 this year) is also known as the Feast of the Summer Solstice or Upright Sun. People flock to the banks of rivers and lakes to watch brightly colored dragon boat races. It was believed that this would encourage the dragons in the heavens to fight, thus bringing rain at a time when it is needed for the crops (although now this is often the end of the rainy season).
The traditional food is zongzi, triangular rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. In ancient China, they were stuffed with cherries, mulberries, peaches, apricots, and other seasonal fruits. The traditional drink is realgar wine, which is considered an antidote against poison.
The fifth moon (called the Dragon Moon) is considered a dangerous time, especially for boys, because yang (the masculine power) is at its height. So many customs revolve around protection. In some places, people eat and exchange cakes imprinted with images of the Five Poisonous Creatures (centipede, scorpion, snake, lizard, and toad), as these will protect the eater from bites. In other parts of China, old women cut red paper into the shapes of these poisonous creatures and put them, along with a cut-paper tiger, into a gourd to prevent them from harming human beings.
Dragon boat festivals are popular today in cities all over the world. You might search for one near you. Seattle’s Dragon Boat Festival will be held on July 25 and is organized by the same group that hosts the more famous Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the weekend of June 19–21.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”