The origins of the Dragon Boat Festival can be found in several stories. The most famous are about Qu Yuan, China’s first patriotic writer and Wu Zixu, a once-loyal advisor to the King Fuchai. For more see Poets, Dragons, and Water Demons.
Before Qu Yuan waded in the Miluo River and drowned himself, he wrote a famous lyrical poem 离骚 Li Sao (“Sorrow in Estrangement”). The whole poem is 2500 Chinese characters long, but check out these excerpts below from this page.
Cassia and pepper of the mountain-side , with melilotus white in clusters vied.
Zá shēn jiāo yǔ jūn guì xī, qǐ wéi rèn fu huì zhǐ!
The way was long, and wrapped in gloom did seem, as I urged on to seek my vanished dream.
Lù mànmàn qí xiū yuǎn xī, wú jiāng shàngxià ér qiúsuǒ.
Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears, to see my people bowed by griefs and fears.
Zhǎng tài xí yǐ yǎn tì xī, āi mínshēng zhī duō jiān.
But since my heart did love such purity, I’d not regret a thousand deaths to die.
Yì yú xīn zhī suǒ shàn xī, suī jiǔsǐ qí yóu wèi huǐ.
Without delay the sun and moon sped fast, in swift succession spring and autumn passed;
Rì yuè hū qí bù yān xī, chūn yǔ qiū qí dàixù.
Everyone knows holidays are more than just legends and poems. Eating Zong Zi is a must for Dragon Boat Festival. Buy them at any grocery store or even try making them yourself (see “Chi Le Ma“). Oh and realgar wine (雄黄酒 xióng huáng jiǔ) goes down nicely with Zong Zi. Traditionally the wine is poured into the river to call a dragon to protect Qu Yuan’s body. Nowadays, people believe drinking the wine can strengthen their bodies and repell insects. Adults even smear realgar wine on children’s hands, feet, ears to protect them from bugs. For more, do read Legends of China.