May the 5th in Chinese Luna Calendar marks the day of ancient rituals and seasonal change. Many people think this is only the special day to remember a famous poet, Qu Yuan. Actually, this date was always an ancient folk feast day to mark the change of seasons and to deal with nature's challenges. When did this old custom start, no one really know; but it was a lot older than Qu Yuan's era. Some say it was created by the ancient tribal leaders for the welfare of their people. It is now known as "Dragon Boat Festival" all over the world. People are rowing and racing their boats on this day in Australia, Singapore, United States and even Russia!
Zhongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves steamed to perfection is among my favorite foods from home. On this day, my Grandmother made plain ones to dip in sugar, or salty ones with meat or nuts stuffed inside the rice. There was always a feast with lots of food set out on round tables waiting for family, friends to drop in and enjoy. The boat race was all important as it involves the reputation of the village or a county. Men folks were serious about their team work and winning was everything.
Ladies and young girls made embroidery sachets containing fragrance and spices to hang for protection against evil spirits. Their various creations became works of art. Calamus and Moxe branches were hung on doorways. Realgar wine was used for disinfecting purposes. It was splashed in corners and on door steps. We children usually had our foreheads marked by this wine to keep us from insect bites. Summer heat was a concern for people's health in ancient China. Families relied on the seasonal advice from the Farmer's Almanac to deal with various issues of diet, living habits, medicine and spiritual worship to the Gods. I suppose in every culture there are these so-called "Old Wives' Tales". Ah, but these stories and memories being passed down are the fabrics and strength of our cultural background. While we forget sometimes, they are being woven into our modern day lives because it is deeply ingrained in each of us.
There is a Chinese saying: "Don't put away winter clothes until after you have had Zhongzi and watched the Dragon Boat Race". I didn't get to see a race for many years now; but I have had Zhongzi, and I have my healthy saches hanging. Now I can at least safely say, summer is finally coming.
Pearl Weng Liang Huang, Founder of
Ru Yi Studio of Multicultural Arts