Dragon boats take to the Lake Phalen for the Pan-Asian Dragon Festival

Image by Yali Shi/Fotolia.

By Lianna Matt

As the 40-foot long dragon boat slices across the water, the boat drummer sits up by the bow’s dragonhead and sets the paddling rhythm. The dragon head stares straight ahead without wavering—even when the designated flag catcher crawls atop its forehead to reach for the floating pennant that marks the end of the race at Lake Phalen’s Dragon Festival.

Celebrating 18 years of Pan-Asian culture and pride, the Dragon Festival kicks off with an opening dragon dance parade and has a weekend full of martial art demonstrations, cultural performances and family friendly activities. The keystone event, of course, are the dragon boat races that span both days of the festival, July 8 and 9.

Dragon boat races began more than two thousand years ago to commemorate the death of poet Qu Yuan. As the Dragon Festival tells the story, Qu Yuan was wrongly banished for his political opinion and jumped into the river. As passersby and friends alike rushed to try and save him, they splashed their oars and threw rice and dumplings into the water to scare and distract fish from converging on Qu Yuan.

As dragon boat racing has grown more popular over time, it has become a symbol of China’s deep heritage. On Lake Phalen, the boats take part in a 200 meter sprint; in other parts of the world, races can be as long as 2,000 meters. Regardless of length, each race reflects the harmony and drive of the teams.

So in between the entertainment, the food and vendor booths, and the festivities, make sure to journey to the edge of the banks and watch as the dragon boats once again race across the waters.

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