Today was public holiday in China due to Dragon Boat Festival, traditionally known as Duanwu Festival which is celebrated on fifth day of the fifth month of Chinese lunisolar calendar (Xia calendar). There are many traditional stories associated with the history regarding the origins of the festival.
As narrated to me by a colleague at work, the most famous legend associates the day with the death of the Chinese poet Qu Yuan who worked as an official of Zhou dynasty in the ancient state of Chu before 300 BC. On some important issue he opposed the king and went into exile where he wrote a great deal of poetry. Continuing his opposition to the king for some years, he finally committed suicide by drowning himself in a river which is probably in Hunan province. The people dropped a particular kind of food into the river for the fish so that they don’t eat the body of Qu. I didn’t know it when she was narrating the story but later as I saw that food in the market, it struck me that I just had that in dinner last night in the hotel. Its called Zongzi. It is made of rice with some sweet or salty filling and wrapped up with reed leaves with five different colors of thread.
Besides this popular myth, there are many other theories explaining the origins of the festival. In the early years of Republic of China, the day was celebrated as the day of poets. There is another modern theory which states that the day was originally celebrated as a ritual to avoid diseases during midsummer days before being superimposed by the tradition of poet Qu Yuan. The theory gets strength from the fact that it has a history in dragon worship and it is a culture of many eastern agricultural societies to do some kind of ritual worship to gods before the harvest of wheat.
Whatever be the history, Chinese people love to enjoy it as a holiday and gather with family and friends to enjoy Zongzi.