Why you shouldn’t wish a Happy Dragon Boat Festival and what to say instead

Dragon Boat Festival

Today is Dragon Boat Festival. Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated annually on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, which is usually sometime in June.

When we left our apartment last year in the early morning of Dragon Boat Festival, we found mugwort leaves hung on the outside of our door and car. Our then 11-month-old son soon found himself decorated with the leaves as well and five colour silk threads on both of his arms, legs and around his neck.


mugwort leaves are being sold on the street

My in-laws had been up since the wee hours of the morning preparing Zongzi (sticky rice cakes stuffed with jujube) and even came over to our apartment to hang up mugwort outside. Mugwort is supposed to keep diseases away (the smell of mugwort is said to keep mosquitoes away) and is also put on the silk threads in little bags.


Zongzi, sticky rice cakes stuffed with dates in Northern China and pork, beans, peanuts or other stuffings in Southern China

Why you shouldn’t wish a Happy Dragon Boat Festival

Although Dragon Boat Festival is considered a happy occasion to celebrate with family members, the story behind it isn’t as happy as the celebrations convey.

Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate the official and poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC) who lived in the State of Chu. He was an advisor to the King of Chu, but fell from grace and was sent into exile. The King didn’t listen to his advice and the State of Chu was eventually invaded by the State of Qin. Upon hearing these news, Qu Yuan is said to have drowned himself in the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. People rowed boats out onto the river but couldn’t find him. In order to keep fish from eating his dead body, they’d throw sticky rice cakes into the water for them to eat instead.


threads that are said to keep diseases away are worn for Dragon Boat Festival

Many Chinese will wish each other a “Happy Dragon Boat Festival”. But the story above is the reason why wishing someone a “Happy Dragon Boat Festival” is considered inappropriate by some. Instead of saying “Happy Dragon Boat Festival” (端午节快乐 duānwǔjié kuàilè), you can wish each other good health for Dragon Boat Festival (端午安康 duānwǔ ānkāng).

Healthy Dragon Boat Festival to you all!

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. DavidfromHK

    Thanks for the reminder. It is good to rekindle with the story that I learned when I was a kid in HK. Do you like the zongzhi made in northeast China? I have never had any zongzhi stuffed with dates. In Guangdung, the zongzhi are stuffed with pork, green bean, and a yoke of duck egg. I love it.

    • I love the Zongzi here. The candied dates stuffing my in-laws make is delicious. The first time I had Zongzi I had them in the south with pork. I thought the filling would be sweet, so was quite surprised. I later had all different kinds of fillings, including one with flowers and peanuts in Yunnan. I generally prefer the sweeter versions.

  2. Interesting! I had no idea that was the story behind it! I was actually in China for Duang Wu Jie and (luckily) I didn’t wish anyone 端午节快乐! I asked my Chinese friends the story behind it and they kind of shrugged their shoulders… or perhaps they thought explaining that in Chinese to me would be too 麻烦, haha. Poor guy!

    Did the mugwort really keep the mosquitos away?

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