Row Your Boat: Dragon Boat Festival Customs & Traditions

Dragon Boat Close-Up
A Rainy Day at the Races


A Dragon Boat Race

Ready! Set! Bang!

The race has started!

The steady beat of the drum is used to synchronized the rowers – the oars of the 20 men enter the water at the same time and their bodies sway back and forth is steady formation and unison. The drum determines when the oars hit the water. The more in tune the rowers are with the beating of the drum, the faster the boat will glide toward the flag at the finish line. As the race heats up, so does the amount of beats. Drums pounding, arms burning, hearts beating, the racers give it their all in the name of victory. When the boat nears the finish line, the flag-grabber hops onto the head of the dragon. Arms reaching out as far as possible, legs hugging the head of the dragon, the first one who grabs their respective flag clinches victory for their boat and their team is announced the winner. The boats are then dragged back to the start by a motor boat and it all begins again until one team, the winner team, is left standing.

And that is what it is like to row in a Dragon Boat Race.


A Green Dragon Boat


Dragon Boat Festival Customs and Traditions

The Dragon Boat Festival is only a couple of days away. Most Taiwanese are excited because it signals a three-day weekend this year. However, it also offers a lot more than an extra day off – it is a festival rich in customs and traditions. Here are some examples of how people celebrate this festival in Taiwan:

Make and Eat Sticky Rice Dumplings (Zongzi):

Sticky rice dumplings, commonly consisting of bamboo, egg yolk, pork, mushrooms among other ingredients are usually prepared and eaten during this national holiday. These items are chopped, sliced, and diced, and then cooked. Then all the ingredients are mixed and fried together with a sticky type of rice before small portions of the mixture are placed in a bamboo leaf. The bamboo leaf is wrapped around the sticky rice mixture, creating a trianglar shape. The leaf acts as a protective covering while steaming or boiling. The flavor of the leaf also adds to the overall taste of the zongzi while acting as a seal to prevent flavors and moisture from escaping. It also aids in creating the desired sticky composition of the final product.

The Inside
Ready to Eat

Watch Dragon Boat Races:

A larger number of people attend one of many Dragon Boat Races hosted by cities and towns around Taiwan. (See intro for description.) Most row for fun but some are in it to win it. The races are fun to watch but be prepared for the heat!! It is usually really hot!!

A few years ago, my husband joined a Dragon Boat team and these guys were very competitive. They practiced EVERY morning at 4:45 a.m. for 6 weeks. Some members even claimed to have lost weight to make the boat go faster. I don’t know who was happier when the races were over and the alarm stopped going off before five. I bet it was my husband but I extremely happy, too.

Neck and Neck – So Close
An older boat – I like its rustic charm

Make or Buy Scented Sachets (Packets):

It is custom for children to assemble and sew pre-designed cut-outs of cute animals such as dogs, cats, pigs, and so on. A scented piece of wool or fabric is placed inside the packet before it is sewn together. Many different kinds of scents are used but the most common scent is the one usually associated with Chinese medicine or herbs. Even though some kids still make their own scented packets, the majority of the ones you see around these days are factory made and store bought.

Children will wear these cute creations around their neck during the days leading up to and on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival in a bid to ward off evil (or so is the belief).

Lots of Packets – Take Your Pick

Balancing An Egg at Noon:

Although there is no apparent connection to the Dragon Boat Festival other than for good luck (or so I am told by many Taiwanese), many Taiwanese attempt to balanced an egg and make it stand upright at 12 noon. I have never personally done this but I know some of my students have and apparently there are some techniques you can use to ‘cheat,’ like placing salt on the surface. However, like I said before, I have never tried it, so I have no proof that it actually works.


Happy Dragon Boat Festival, everyone! If you are in Taiwan, have a great three-day weekend!!

My husband and I are going to have a full house this weekend. All of his four siblings and their families are visiting, so there will be no new post in my Taiwanese wedding series this week. But it will be back next week, so be sure to drop next Saturday.


30 thoughts on “Row Your Boat: Dragon Boat Festival Customs & Traditions

  1. I love to discover local traditions, it really make me feel close to the country I’m visiting or living in. Do you think there is a vegetarian option of the Zongzi? I like how they are tied up nicely in a bamboo leaf.

    1. You don’t like zongzi? BLASPHEMY!!! I love them!! I love sticky rice, haha. However, if you don’t eat meat I get why you don’t like them, the good ones are the ones with meat, the sweet ones (with red bean) are not that good…

  2. Great account of the dragon boat festivity! Can you believe that I have been in China for 7 years and I have never ever seen the races?? I will try to go this year, as my dad is visiting πŸ™‚

  3. Ooh, you make it sound so exciting! And I admire your dedication – I don’t know if anything could make me get up that early for weeks on end! Have a great long weekend!

  4. It’s interesting to see how such festivals are really being celebrated. We have the same dumplings here in Singapore too!! πŸ™‚

  5. One of my friends joined the dragon boat team and they have this festival in Seattle and Olympia every year, he did really well! But rowing is soo intense haha and it looks very tiring. Mmmm I looooove Zong Zi, SO good!

  6. The Dragon Boat Festival sounds like lots of fun. I’d never heard about the scented packets. Very interesting.

    I took a class in rowing with a group one summer (crew) and really liked it. It was a whole-body workout on a beautiful lake, and when we did it just right and coordinated with each other, it seemed as though we were flying. Magical! Unfortunately, I don’t like to get up early. If I’d wanted to join a serious group, I’d have had to get up at the crack of dawn.

    1. Yes! My husband’s niece was wearing the cutest homemade panda sachet yesterday!!

      I think rowing is great exercise but unfortunately the schedule was a little demanding for my husband as he had to go to work after the workout! I think he enjoys cycling more though as he usually goes with several buddies from school and it presents a socializing aspect as well.

  7. The festival looks fun! I love sticky rice, so I think I would actually like the Zongzi. I could never have that kind of dedication to get up at 4:45 AM, kudos to your husband! I bet it was fun to cheer him on that year! Hope you are enjoying time with his family!

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