More than 20,000 people are expected to gather on the banks of the Charles River for the 35th Annual Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival a week from Sunday (June 15) from noon to 5 p.m. Spectators will be able to watch brightly colored dragon boats piloted by paddlers from Greater Boston, Rhode Island, New York, and New Hampshire as they race down the river from Western Avenue Bridge. Concurrently, free pan-Asian artistic performances and cultural activities will be presented along the banks of the river. It’s a wonderful early summer outing for the whole family.
The first Dragon Boat Festival in the United States was organized right here in the Hub. Traditionally held on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar (late May to mid June on the solar calendar), Dragon Boat Festivals worldwide commemorate the life and death of Qu Yuan, a poet and patriot who lived during the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history.
The Boston festival promotes Asian cultures and brings together diverse communities from Boston and surrounding areas. The event is the largest annual Asian-interest gathering in New England.
Located by by John W. Weeks Foot Bridge on the Charles between JFK and Western avenues, this year’s festival will feature sixty-two teams competing in categories designated with special races and medals for colleges, high schools, financial institutions, health care, women’s, club, and cancer survivors divisions. Rowers from Dorchester include members of the UMass Boston Beacons.
While races start in the morning, cultural programs will begin at noon. All programs are free and family friendly for visitors. Sponsors, founders and committee members will paint the eyes of the dragonhead on each boat at the dock on the Boston side. This is an ancient Chinese ceremony that is believed to enable the dragon to soar with the utmost power. The Eye-Dotting Ceremony will take place with the accompaniment of traditional Chinese drumming along both banks of the rivers by drummers from the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association (GBCCA) and the Cambridge Center for Chinese Culture (CCCC).
Cultural programming will include a Cambodian dance by the Angkor Dance Troupe and Chinese Bianlian, or Face Mask Changing, as well as returning favorites such as a Dragon and Lion Dance and Chinese martial arts by Wahlum Kungfu, traditional Indian dances by Shaila School of Dance, traditional Japanese Taiko drumming by Odaiko New England, and more. Further enticements include hands-on activities and Chinese arts and crafts by the GBCCA, and Asian foods featuring Chinese, Indian, Thai, Middle-Eastern, and more lining the side of Memorial Drive.
The festival is sponsored in part by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, State Street, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Boston Dragon Boat Festival Committee One special program to highlight at this year’s festival is Hong Kong Celebrates Massachusetts by Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, the festival’s naming sponsor. This year, Hong Kong ETO is focused on Massachusetts in its promotion of relations between Hong Kong and the United States.
Videos and background explanations can be seen on the website bostondragonboat.org.