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How long does the Dragon Boat Festival last and where is the largest in the USA?

China is celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival this week, with parallel events happening in other parts of the world with large Chinese communities such as the United States.

China is celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival this week, with parallel events happening in other parts of the world with large Chinese communities such as the United States.

The annual Dragon Boat Festival (Chinese: Duan Wu Jie) is a traditional Chinese holiday that is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese (lunar) calendar. It is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In the western world, the dates usually correspond to late May or June. This year’s festival falls on Monday 10 June although activities started on Saturday 8th, and the event is celebrated in all corners of the world in cities which have large Chinese communities and with a close proximity to water.

What is the Dragon Boat Festival about?

According to local superstitions in Chinese culture, the fifth lunar month was considered an unlucky month, and the fifth day an unlucky day. During the first weeks of summer, people would generally fall ill to viruses and bugs. In ancient China, the Dragon Boat Festival was originally regarded as a traditional medical and health festival, designed to prevent diseases and ward off evil spirits and poisonous insects.

Long, 40 feet+, intricately-decorated boats with dragon heads at the bow take to the water in a race. Drums are enthusiastically beaten with spectators throwing rice and zong zi into the river to key mythical dragons at bay. Zong zi is the traditional snack eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival - small triangular parcels filled with ticky rice and either a savory (pork) or sweet (red bean paste) filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves.

In the United States, the Dragon Boat Festival has been held annually in various cities. Boston was the first to stage the festival in 1979, with races and regattas on the Charles River. Other cities followed suit, such as Seattle with races taking place on Lake Union, as well as New York, Chicago, Portland, Nevada, Kansas City, Iowa and Miami.

Where is the largest Dragon Boat Festival in the US?

The largest Dragon Boat Festival in the United States is held at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver, Colorado which has been running every year since 2001. Initially, the race featured 16 teams but today, around 50 teams compete in two divisions. Around 125,000 people flock to the site for the festival, which also includes other activities such as dance performances, martial arts, music and of course, a wide range of traditional culinary attractions with stands offering Asian food such as zong zi, baos, rice cakes, eels, tea-infused boiled eggs, jiaozas, spring rolls (Chun Juan)...

While San Francisco is believed to have the oldest Chinese community in the United States, Colorado has the biggest Asian community today. According to the 2021 census, Superior and Greenwood Village have the most Asian residents with 16.82% and 13.71% respectively.

There are approximately 260,000 Asians living in Colorado - around 4% of the population, of which, around 47,000 are Chinese with other populations including Filipino, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese. Government figures estimate that there are around 24 million Asians living in the United States - 5.2 million of Chinese descent.

Dragon Boat racing has taken off in the United States in recent years. The United States Dragon Boat Federation, a non-profit, volunteer organization, was set up in 1991 with around 90,000 participants in the US and Canada taking part in the sport each year.

The USDBF promotes the sport US for fitness, recreation, and team-building at all levels of competition, offering training, clinics, and certification for dragon boat officials, coaches, paddlers, and festival organizers.