The Boston Dragon Boat festival is the first and oldest of its kind in North America. This year, it will be held for the 37th year from June 11-12. The festival is now the largest Asian-American cultural event in New England. According to the festival’s public relations coordinator, over 30,000 people are expected to attend.
The festival will feature the traditional dragon boat races down the Charles River, where teams from all over the country will be competing. Gail Wang (the festival’s PR coordinator) said a record-breaking 69 teams will come out for the event. This number is a huge increase from just 10 years ago, when only about 40 teams participated.
Festival-goers can also enjoy traditional Asian food, arts and crafts, and performances. Performers will come from many different countries, including: Korea, Cambodia and India. This year, the festival has also expand to include workshop in tai chi and lion dancing.
“Dragon boat racing originated in ancient China, but we want to include all Asian cultures,” Wang said. The festival provides people with a rare occasion to enjoy first-class cultural performances and food all day.
Dragon boat racing traditionally takes place on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar. It also has quite a fascinating origin story. It began in 200 B.C. to commemorate the death of Chinese poet and minister Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan was banished by the king after advocating for reforms in his home state of Chu. Legend says he drowned himself in the Mi Lo River when he heard his home had been invaded. The people rushed to rescue him and threw steamed rice wrapped in reed leaves as a sacrifice. Ever since, dragon boats have raced down the rivers of China in his memory.
The Boston Dragon Boat Festival is the first dragon boat festival outside of Chinese-speaking regions, according to Wang. The festival started in 1979 as part of a program with the Boston Children’s Museum. Since then, it has grown into its own nonprofit, and has kickstarted a phenomenon in North America. Similar races are now take place in Miami, Houston, Denver, Vancouver and more.
“It’s becoming very mainstream, and I am proud to be working for the festival that started such a popular sport and cultural festivity,” Wang said.
However, Wang noted that the festival is not just for the Asian-American community.
“It is for everybody to enjoy,” she said. “The racing, the foods, they are all universal.”