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Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival Returns to the Charles

For 2013 Dragon Boat Festival details: Boston Dragon Boat Festival 2013 June 10th, 2012 marks the 33rd annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on Boston's Charles River, bringing 30-40 teams from around the world together to compete for an assortment of coveted medals and honors. This year in particularly special for the Festival - it also marks the 15th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. Over 20,000 participants and spectators will be making their way to the Charles River near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus over the course of both Saturday and Sunday to see the dragon boats racing for seeding and for competition. Each dragon boat is made of 18 team members, including 16 paddlers, 1 drummer, and 1 steersperson. For 500 meters from the Western Avenue Bridge to the Weeks footbridge in Cambridge, in Hong Kong style fiberglass dragon boats, people line up to see who will take the title of Festival Grand Champions (last year it was NY, if you're curious). Here's a look at how the festival came to be, and what to expect if you visit:

Cultural Importance, Qu Yuan, & Festival Lore

For Boston especially, it’s important that cultural aspects are included in the exciting race-day events. The Boston Dragon Boat Festival’s official statement includes the following explanation:

The goal of the festival is to provide a common setting through which citizens of diverse backgrounds may share goodwill. The short-term impact is a day of friendship, and the long-term impact will be bonds forged within a heritage activity and extended to life-long understanding among people of diverse backgrounds.

Your path to life-long understanding begins with learning the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival, otherwise called the Duanwu Festival or the Double Fifth abroad.

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Traditionally, the Dragon Boat Festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar – typically late May to late June. In China and abroad the festival honors the life and death of Qu Yuan, the famous Chinese poet and patriot who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. Legend has it that upon hearing that his home state of Chu had been invaded, Qu Yuan plunged himself into the Miluo River to end his life. Villagers rushed to the water to save him but were too late. To prevent the river’s fish from eating his body and to ward off evil spirits, the story goes that the villagers furiously beat the water with paddles, slammed their drums, and threw steamed rice wrapped in reed leaves, typically called zung-ze, into the water. Since that fateful day, the Chinese, along with their friends and family both at home and abroad, have been racing dragon boats and sacrificing zung-ze to rivers in order to celebrate the life of Qu Yuan as well as patriotism for their home country.

Free and Family Friendly Arts & Crafts

There’s a lot to do at the Boston Dragon Boat Festival beyond watching the races. Starting at noon, a variety of free cultural programs will take place on the banks of the Charles. Families and friends will be able to see some dragon dances, learn the art of Chinese calligraphy, or practice their Origami skills with some Chinese paper folding. Here’s a quick look at some of the other types of arts and crafts you might be able to see while attending the Festival:

  • Colored Dough Figures: Using dough made from flour, water, salt, and food coloring, a skilled artist can whip together miniature figurines straight from a storybook. Colored dough is usually available for purchase so that you can test your skills at home.
  • The Art of Using Chopsticks: Anyone with a friend who’s traveled to China can tell you that there is a definite wrong way and right way to use a pair of chopsticks. At the Festival, you can see if you know the difference with different competitions, like testing how many pieces of marble you can pick up in 30 seconds.
  • Peking Opera Masks: Have you ever heard of Monkey King? He’s a famous Chinese folklore trickster who’s notorious for using his wits and his magic to get out of tricky situations. Paper Monkey King masks have been available for children to color in the past, and there’s always face painting of characteristic Asian designs at the Festival too.

These arts and crafts will be available to everyone from 12-5pm, and will be paired with a number of cultural performances and events.

Performers and Vendors at the Festival

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One of the main performing groups at the Festival is the Cambridge Center for Chinese Culture (CCCC)’s Art Troupe - it has everything from dancers to drummers, and comes from one of the largest Chinese cultural centers in the Greater Boston area. They’ll be joined by performers from the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association (GBCCA), Odaiko New England (ONE), and Wah Lum Kung Fu. Throughout the day you can expect to see performances of Chinese music and dance as well as traditional yo-yo and kung-fu demonstrations. Fortunately for hungry spectators, the Dragon Boat Festival’s list of food offerings is equally as diverse as its performances. Korean, Cantonese, Thai, Chinese, and even Hawaiian shaved ice will all be available for purchase throughout the day. If you’ve got a lot of hungry friends who don’t mind sharing a table, it may also be worth it to sign up for the Festival Banquet on Saturday, June 9th at 6pm. For $300, you’ll get the opportunity to mix and mingle with Dragon Boat teams as well as enjoy a 10-course banquet style dinner at the New Moon Villa Restaurant. Before or after your time at the Dragon Boat Festival, take your Go Boston Card and visit the nearby Harvard Museum of Natural History or take your own riverboat cruise with the Charles River Riverboat. Don't worry, no drummers or steerpersons necessary.

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