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Dragon Boat Festival History, Crafts, and Recipes

VirginiaLynne is an educator with two adopted Chinese daughters. She has studied Mandarin and how to teach children about China.

Chinese Market

Chinese Market

Teaching Kids About Duan Wu Jie

Want to learn what the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is all about? Maybe you are teaching some kids about this important Chinese holiday. I have two children adopted from China and often need to teach about Chinese Festivals and prepare activities to help kids learn about Chinese culture. Look below for:

  • History of the Dragon Boat Festival
  • Dragon Boat Festival Foods and Recipe
  • Crafts for Dragon Boat Festival
  • Videos to explain the Dragon Boat Festival Legends

History of Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie in Mandarin) is fun to watch and provides an opportunity to talk about Chinese legends. The Dragon Boat Festival is said to be the oldest Chinese festival. In the races, the boats race to a drumbeat and hope to cross the finish line first.

Dragon Boat Festival Origin

The custom of the races immortalizes the story of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (pronounced Chu Yuan), whose fight against the corrupt government of Emperor Huai during the Warring States period earned him accolades from the people but exile from the government.

Eventually, in despair, he threw himself into the river on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month in 277 B.C. Legend has it that when the people heard where his body was drowned, they threw rice into the water in hopes that the fish would eat the rice rather than the poet so that his body could be recovered.

Reading About the Dragon Boat Festival

To teach about the Dragon Boat Festival, you can read the books I've linked, which explain the story of Chu Yuan and tell about how this Chinese holiday is celebrated. I own these books and some others that my kids enjoy hearing over and over. In addition, you can watch videos on the dragon boat races, or better yet, look to see if one is being held near you.

Dragon Boat Festival Food

The throwing of rice into the water has led to the tradition of eating zongzi (sticky rice formed around a sweet like dates and wrapped in bamboo leaves that are molded into triangular pyramids) and rice dumplings. Since the fifth day of the fifth month is said to be a time of particularly bad luck, like most Chinese festivals, this holiday is also used as a time to ward off evil spirits.

You can show the video on making zongxi and try to make some yourself or buy them online or in a local market. You can also get a bit of the experience of the taste by making my recipe below

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Read More From Holidappy

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

18 min

33 min

24 balls

Ingredients for Kids Zongxi

  • 1 cup medium grain rice, long grain can be used but won't stick as well
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tea salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup sugar, (more or less to taste)
  • as needed coconut, sugar and/ or dried seaweed sheets, for rolling and wrapping balls

Instructions for American Kids Zongxi

  1. Make Rice: Put water and salt in a pot. Bring to a boil and add rice. Lower heat and cover the pot. Simmer the rice for 18 minutes. Remove from stove. Cooked medium rice should stick together well. Cool.
  2. Make Zongxi. Stir sugar into zongxi to taste. Make rice balls by taking about 1-2 TB of rice and rolling it around a few chopped date pieces. Roll the ball in sugar or coconut to coat. If you like, you can add strips of dried seaweed.
  3. Easy alternative: If you want something faster, you can just serve the sweetened rice with dates or raisins in a small tasting cup with strips of seaweed on the side.
Crayon Resist Dragon

Crayon Resist Dragon

Kids Crafts for Dragon Boat Festival

The best resource for information, crafts and cooking on Chinese Festivals is the comprehensive book, Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats. I've owned this book for several years and use it often, so I'd recommend it as an excellent resource for teachers, parents of Chinese children or libraries.

The lovely watercolor drawings alone make this book a great addition to any home or school library. Moonbeams, Dumpling and Dragon Boats has instructions for making dragon boats you can float, fragrant bag sachets and bamboo snappers.

Crafts for Dragon Boat Festival

Here is an assortment of easy crafts for kids that you can use in your teaching or home celebration with children.

  1. Dragon crayon resist always turns out beautifully and is very colorful (see the one pictured to the right). Have children draw a dragon (maybe provide instructions or pictures) with black crayons. Then use watercolors on top.
  2. Dragon Mask: Have kids color paper plates like dragons, or use tissue paper and red, orange and yellow construction paper on top of large paper grocery bags to make masks. Then have a dragon parade or dance! You can also do this by having one child wearing a dragon mask while the others are holding on behind in a row, with a sheet over their backs, like in the real dragon parades.
  3. Dragon Boats from Foil: Give each child a strip of aluminum foil. Have them shape the foil into a boat with a dragon head on the front (or have them make a dragon out of paper to tape to the front). They can race these boats in a tub of water by blowing on them or attaching a string to them and pulling them. They can also have a challenge of which boat can hold the most pennies or paper clips before it sinks.
  4. Toilet Tube Dragons: See the video below for instructions on how to use empty toilet paper rolls to make a very cute dragon. You could also probably use empty wrapping rolls.
  5. Origami Dragon: This is not an easy project, but the step-by-step instructions on the video below make it a possible choice for older kids (probably ten and up). My daughter Mollie and I have used tutorials from this same author to make all sorts of origami shapes. They are very well done, but be sure that if you are doing this with a group you have made several ahead of time to be sure you know the steps.

    You can use any thin paper for origami. White copier paper works great if cut into squares. That is cheap, and kids can color their dragon in their own design afterward.

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