The Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and is therefore also known as the 'Double Fifth'. The relevant dates for the next two years are:
Duanwu was made a national holiday in 2008 as part of the revision of all holidays. The extra time for this, and for other traditional dates, was taken from the May 'Golden Week' in an attempt to spread the huge surge in demand that had been created.
The origins of the festival are said to date back to the third century. A righteous courtier called Qu Yuan was exiled on trumped-up charges. Disconsolate, he drowned himself. The locals knew him to be a good man and raced to save him. These same locals started to feed Qu Yuan's drowned spirit with rice. One of them had a dream that all the rice was being eaten by the fish and so the tradition of wrapping the glutinous rice in bamboo leaves started. This tasty snack is now known as Zongzi.
Other theories suggest that the festival is even older and is linked to Dragon Worship.
Dragon Boat races are held on many waterways all over China (and way beyond) and are well worth a look if the time is right. The boats and the participants are all obviously very interesting - but the foreign visitor can also enjoy just being part of a large, happy crowd. It is an easy time to get some interaction and to make new friends.