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Ushering in May and Preparing for the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important folk holidays in the Guangfu region. Historically, there has been a great diversity of theories on the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival. Some people attribute it to the memory of Qu Yuan, while others contend that the festival was first staged to pay tribute to Wu Zixu and the King of Yue, Gou Jian. Still, some believe that the festival is actually for daughters. According to the poet and scholar Wen Yiduo, the Dragon Boat Festival was originally a day on which ancient people offered sacrifices to the dragon totem. It originated from the Yue people in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and was later spread to central China and the rest of the country.

Commonly known as the "May Festival" in Guangzhou, the Dragon Boat Festival's major events include dragoon boat racing, eating glutinous rice dumplings, hanging sweet sedges on walls, drinking realgar wine, distributing spice sachets, and washing Dragon Boats. The rites are largely the same all over the region. As a wide variety of events is staged on the Dragon Boat Festival and around the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, people would begin preparations for the events a month ahead of the festival in keeping with the traditions. On the first day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, people pay tribute to their ancestors, and on the second day, people distribute gifts, such as glutinous rice dumplings, wine, pork and spice sachets, to relatives and friends. Married women are escorted back to their mothers' homes with a box filled with glutinous rice dumplings, raw fruits, pork and wine. In the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China period, students at private schools would present gifts to their tutors. These customs are not commonly practiced in the cities now, but are still observed in the countryside.

Before the Dragon Boat Festival, women and elders would prepare colorful silk spice sachets and distribute them to young boys and girls during the festival. A family marrying their daughter off would also distribute spice sachets to their relatives. The sachets, containing spice powder, cinnabar and realgar, are believed to help the wearer ward off "evil spirits".

In the 1920s, the Republic Daily once carried the text of Guangzhou's traditional Dragon Boat Festival song – "Sipping wine and picking ripe litchi fruits in the early days of the fifth month; festooning Dragon Boats with sweet sedges and vending such sedges in the street; buying leaves as wrappers for glutinous rice dumplings, and repelling mosquitoes by burning incenses." The lyrics capture the bustling scenes of the tradition Dragon Boat Festival in Guangzhou.

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