Dragon Boat Festival: 2. Traditions

Posted: 2014 年 05 月 20 日 in Dragon Boat Festival
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Five Poisons

According to Chinese tradition, there are five poisonous animals: the snake, the lizard, the scorpion, the centipede, and the toad. These five creatures are believed to be especially menacing beginning on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the date of the Dragon Boat Festival. It is also believed that when they appear together in a group they don’t dare contend with each other and their poisonous effects are thereby canceled out. So, on the Dragon Boat Holiday, special clothe pouches emblazoned with the five poisonous creatures are given to the children as lucky protective charms; and red paper cutouts featuring these beasts are posted on the windows to ward away evil.

In the past, Chinese medicine shops used to offer a special prescription for summertime coughs and rheumatism made from centipedes, scorpions, snakes, and other poisonous insects mixed with wine. Remnants of this tradition can be found in the snake meat shops found in Taipei Wanhua district and other parts of the island.

Xiung Huang Wine

Xiung huang (雄黃) is a rust-colored sulfur powder which is mixed with wine and drunk during the Dragon Boat Festival. The tradition of drinking this medicinal concoction may be derived from its mention in the famous Chinese folk tale, The Legend of White Snake (白蛇傳). It is taken along with green bean cakes in the hopes of flushing germs and poisons out of the body. But if someone offers you a bowl of this muddy cocktail, be careful not to drink too much. The xiung huang compound contains traces of arsenic and it can only be taken in very small portions. In the past, people used to sprinkle leftover xiung huang wine in the corners under the bed to kill off the bugs.

In addition to drinking the red colored xiung huang wine, it used to be customary to make offerings of red colored foods during the Dragon Boat Festival. Red is the color of luck and foods like shrimp, red peppers, carrots and radishes were commonly placed on the sacrifice table to obtain blessings from the ancestors and spirits.

Rush Sword

Rush sword (菖蒲) is a special ornament made for the Dragon Boat Festival. The Chinese call the fifth month of the year “poison month” and the fifth through 14th days of the month are believed to be the most dangerous. On the first of these days, the day of the dragon boat holiday, a special bouquet made of rushes and sprigs is hung up over the door. Roughly shaped like a sword, the bouquet is believed to have the power to ward off flying gruesome ghosts out to spread sickness and ill will.

Over the years, the custom of hanging charms over the door during the Dragon Boat Holiday has expanded. In addition to the usual bouquet of rush, moxa, and calamus, banyan branches may also be used because the banyan is the Buddhist tree of enlightenment. And if you look carefully, you might find garlic or pomegranate blossoms hanging over your head.

 

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