About the Festival

"The Finger Lakes Dragon Boat Festival is the one of the few dragon boat events, in this part of the US, that draws from all the major cities in the Northeast Corridor that provides both well produced event and the beautiful setting of Central New York. The festival in Ithaca is becoming a "must" on the race schedule of many teams. "

- Ken Wong, Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association, U.S. National Champions

» Organizers and Collaborators

The Dragon Boat Festival in Ithaca

The Finger Lakes Dragon Boat Festival promotes, educates, and celebrates Asian and Asian American cultures and heritage through dragon boating racing and festival activities.

The Festival is sponsored and hosted by the Ithaca Asian American Association (IAAA). IAAA is a volunteer-based organization and home of the Ithaca Dragon Boat Club. The Festival upholds one of the three IAAA missions: promote, educate, and celebrate Asian and Asian American heritage and cultures.

Recent Press

What is a Dragon Boat Festival?

Traditionally, the Dragon Boat Festival is known as Duan Wu Jie (Mandarin) or Tuen Ng (Cantonese) which translates almost literary "Day of Right mid-Day". It also known as Double Fifth Celebration, the Festival is traditionally celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. Because of the modernization and the popularity of dragon boating, the Festival is becoming known as the Dragon Boat Festival.

The festival has evolved from a cultural community celebration to an international celebration where the Festival is being held around the world that highlights its local culture and it particular community and/or organizations that host the event around the world. Some utilize the Festival as a way to bring more awareness and to fundraise for particular cause such as the breast cancer, and others host the event to bring various communities to celebrate its multiculturalism and to promote more cross cultural understanding and celebration.

The Festival dates back more than 2000 years ago. It started in the Qin Dynasty and then got formalized in the Han Dynasty (256 BC- AD 220). It was a "semi-religious ceremony, a component of a year-long cycle of rituals centered around Tin Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, to protect Chinese fishing communities and ensure their future prosperity." (Sofield and Sivan, p9.) During the Han Dynasty, the Festival combined its primitive worship and superstitious with its immortalization of historical figures like Qu Yuan in this case. (More on Qu Yuan, below) The re-enactment of the fishermen's desperate attempt to save the much beloved poet who jumped into the river as a form of protest of injustice, in the form of dragon boat races.

Qu Yuan (c. 340 – 278 B.C.)

Qu Yuan is a well-known Chinese Scholar and a minister of Southern state of Chu during the Zhou period. He was much-loved statesmen/poet. Because of the corruption in the court, Qu Yuan's sense of justice and righteousness brought him into conflict with Emperor's courtiers. His peer slandered him so the Emperor banished him to exile. During his exile, he has been collecting legends and producing poetry expressing his love for the State and his concerns of its future.

When he heard that the State of Chu was heading into the hand of the Qin, he threw himself into the Milo Rive in today's Hunan Province holding a great rock to commit a ritual suicide as a protest of the corrupt State.

Legend has it that when the villagers heard about his suicide, they were desperately tried to save him but were not successful. In order to keep the fish and evil spirit away from Qu Yuan's body, they beat drums, splashed water with their paddles, and threw rice into the water as a food offering. From there, the dragon boat festival is held every year in commemoration of Qu Yuan, his royalty to his country and the people.

What is the significance of the Dragon?

Unlike the Western culture, dragon is mostly worshipped, respected and praised in China. It is an animal first imagined by the ancient Chinese (Zhang Zhiyuan, p13). It is made up of several different species such as the snake which makes up the body, a frog- belly, carp - scales, a camel- head, a giant stag - horns, the hare - horns, ears like a bull, a neck like an iguana, paws like a tigers, and claws like an eagle.

It is a mythical creature that many traditional Chinese has guarded as the protector of the sea, the weather and the crops.

Zongzi – why do we eat that?

Zongzi is a traditional food that is eaten at the dragon boat festival. It is a glutinous rice wrapped in colorful silk threads. Legend has it that Qu Yuan appeared before his friends after committing his suicide. He told his friends to wrap their rice into three cornered silk package to ward off the river dragon. These packages, looks like a pyramid became to known as zongzi. Some associated as Chinese tamales!

How to make Zongzi

"In the meantime, soak glutinous rice in cold water for several hours. When the rice becomes fat, it's time to make zongzi. Take two or three bamboo leaves, overlapping the edges to form a funnel. Put glutinous rice inside, wrap it up in the shape of a pyramid, and tie it with a string. Boil them in a deep pot for hours, until the rice is cooked. This kind is called "plain" (bai) zongzi, which you eat with sugar or honey. The Beijing style has rehydrated dried dates inside. In southern China people like to put bean paste or pork soaked in soy sauce in the middle of the rice. (Zhao Bao, The Dragon Boat Festival.)


Barker, Pat. Dragon Boats: A Celebration. Weatherhill, 1996.

McCartney, Glenn and Linda Osti. "From Cultural Events to Sport Events: A Case Study of Cultural Authenticity in the Dragon Boat Races" Journal of Sport & Tourism 12:1 (February 2007), 25-40.

Sofield, Trevor H.B. and Atara Sivan. "From Cultural Festival to International Sport – The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races" Journal of Sport Tourism 8:1 (2003), 9-20.

Wiekhorst, Henning. Hong Kong – Mother of Dragons – Dragon Boating. Hong Kong: Creative Dragon Works. 1st Edition, 2008.

Zhiyuan, Zhang. "A Brief Account of Traditional Chinese Festival Customs" Journal of Popular Culture 27, 2 (Fall 1993): 13-23.

Zhao Bao, The Dragon Boat Festival.