Dragon Boat Festival

My husband is from a different country and a different culture. He grew up celebrating a lot of the same holidays I do, just in a slightly different form. He also grew up celebrating a few ones I never knew as a child and have had to learn about as an adult. I use a lot of books and Google searches to come up with ways to celebrate them at home. I also often use the book Moonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats to come up with a few quiet ways to celebrate holidays at home and teach my child about the other half of his culture. Today is Dragon Boat Festival, which traditionally involves boat races and rice dumplings.

The story of the holiday might be rather dark for young children. Qu Yuan, a statesman, threw himself into the river to drown out of loyalty to the king. People rushed out in their boats to find him, and when they failed, they threw rice dumplings into the river so that the fish would not eat his body. The racing boats and rice dumplings are key elements of the holiday. My child is a bit too young for this story, so we focus on the boat races and delicious dumplings.

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is an exciting celebration for kids, complete with dancing, food, and dragon boat races, but it takes place later in the summer. We attend it most years and my son absolutely adores the boat races and aspires to participate in them when he’s bigger. It’s an excellent way to spend a hot summer day. It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do on the actual holiday, however.

The traditional rice dumplings, or zongzi, might be a bit difficult for a busy parent to replicate. They’re time consuming, and I find them a bit hard to wrap. With an older child, they might be fun to attempt as a family project. The MeatMen, a Singaporean food blog, has a guide to making kee chang, a rice dumpling filled with red bean paste, for those who are feeling brave and adventurous. There are a lot of other lovely variations you can make as well. If you’re like us today, you can buy zongzi fresh or frozen in Asian grocery stores and bakeries as well. Frozen dumplings can be cooked easily at home in a steamer.

My son and I set up a pretend paper boat race on a fabric river in honor of the holiday. We downloaded and printed a template, he colored it, and I used hot glue to hold it together. I glued rice to the bottom to give more weight and stability but I suspect small gravel or sand would work better. We used the sheet of metallic fabric we often use as a body of water and put the boats in the river. We’ve also had a lot of fun racing them across the sofa and other surfaces.

Celebrating a different culture’s holidays has definitely been a challenge for me. Initially I was very intimidated by it, but as my child has gotten older and more curious and excited about the holidays, I let his curiosity lead our explorations. The little paper boat races have definitely been a success, and he loves rice dumplings. While the story is definitely one for older children, I can tell him that the holiday is a celebration of loyalty, since that is a quality I want him to value.

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