Everything You Need to Know About Dragon Boat Festival

It’s time for the Dragon Boat Festival

Learn vocabulary and phrases so you can talk about this holiday in English

Ready, set, go!

Dragon Boat in the river in front of Hong Kong

Introduction to Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival holiday is here, and for many people in Asia, it’s just a day off from work or school. However, there is a lot of interesting culture and history associated with this unique festival, such as dragon boat races, balancing eggs, and eating rice dumplings.  

Winnie and I cover the Dragon Boat Festival in-depth in podcast episode #23 by Ride the Vibes. Today’s blog will cover some of the history, vocabulary, and phrases used to describe the Dragon Boat Festival. 

The Legend of Qu Yuan 

Qu Yuan was born in 340 BD in ancient China. He was a poet and politician. Though famous for his poetry and patriotism, it is Qu Yuan’s connection to the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival that most people remember him for. 

Qu Yuan served as the left minister to the State of Chu. He was later exiled to a different region of China due to corrupt ministers influencing the emperor. After finding out that his country’s capital had been invaded and taken over, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. 

The tradition of throwing rice into the river was created to save Qu Yuan from being devoured by the fish, and even today, he is still regarded as an honorable figure and someone who was greatly wronged. 


Double Fifth Festival 

Double Fifth Festival is an alternative name for the Dragon Boat Festival. It refers to the fact that this festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth moon every year. 

poet (n.) 

Def. one who writes poetry; a maker of verses

Ex. Qu Yuan is considered to be a great romantic poet. Here is a verse from his poem “The Mountain Spirit.”

‘I live in a bamboo grove, the sky unseen

The road hither is steep and dangerous; I arrive alone and late.

Alone I stand on the mountain top

While the clouds gather beneath me.

rice dumplings (粽子) (n.) 

Def. sticky rice wrapped in bamboo, which is often filled with meat, sweet potato, and vegetables. 

Ex. My favorite type of sticky rice dumplings are the ones with sweet potato in the middle. 

sticky rice dumplings for dragon boat festival

gong (n.)

Def. a disk-shaped percussion instrument that produces a resounding tone when struck with a usually padded hammer

Ex. Gongs are often used in dragon boat races as well as in Chinese culture in general. 

race (n.) 

Def. a contest of speed

Ex. I want to watch the dragon boats race, but my family wants to take a trip to the coast. 

competition (n.) 

Def. the act or process of competing : RIVALRY: such as

Ex. Both men decided to have a dance competition to show off their dancing skills. 


Hold a competition 

We often use the phrase, “to hold a competition.” 

Ex. The competition will be held on October 12 at the stadium. 

The word “competition” can be substituted with the name of any other type of competition. 

Ex. We will hold the marathon next month when the weather cools down a bit. 

Ex. The  Ironman competition will be held this Saturday. 

balancing eggs for dragon boat festival

To balance smth

During the  Dragon Boat Festival, some people try to balance eggs to bring good luck. 

Ex. Do you want to try to balance an egg with me on the day of the festival? 

Eggs are not the only thing we can balance. There are many other objects that can be balanced. 

Ex. People make cairns on trails to show hikers where to go. These are made by balancing rocks on top of each other. 

Row a Boat 

During the Dragon Boat Festival, many people grab wooden oars and try to row their dragon boat to victory. 

Ex. Rowing a dragon boat is difficult. It takes a lot of back strength. 

Other boats like canoes, kayaks, and rowboats also have oars, and therefore, we can use the verb, “to row,” with them. 

Ex. Kayaks are very light so rowing them is a lot easier than rowing bigger boats. 

If you want to know what boats you can use the verb, “to row” with, just look for the wooden oars on the side of the boat. Boats with engines or that run off other forms of energy don’t have oars, so we can not use the verb “to row.” 

Here is one final example to help you out. 

Ex. Rowboats are generally much smaller than boats with engines, or ships that run off of fossil fuels or other energy sources. 


Dragon Boat Festival might have originated in China, but many countries around the world now host their own dragon boat competitions. It’s a one-of-a-kind holiday with an interesting history and its own traditions. 

Whether or not you celebrate or just see it as an extra holiday, you can now talk about the Dragon Boat Festival in English. 

If you want to learn more about holidays, check out our blog on Lunar New Year Around Asia. 

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Hong-kong-dragon-boat-asia-skyline by moremilu

Dragon-boat-festival-dumplings-pile by ROSALXF

 Egg-eggs-hen-life-food-nature by AlessandroSquassoni