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A Guide to Mid-Autumn & Dragon Boat Festivals in Australia

By Rebecca Foreman | November 13, 2023

In Australia we are often celebrated for our diverse cultural landscape, welcoming a wide array of festivals and traditions from around the world. Among these cherished cultural events, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival have found a special place in the hearts of the Australian people. These festivals, which originated in China but have become a global phenomenon, bring a delightful taste of this Asian tradition to Australia.

Mid-Autumn Festival in Australia

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! This popular festival is also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival. It is one of the most celebrated festivals in Chinese culture behind Chinese New Year, but it is also widely celebrated in parts of South-East Asia and also Australia. It typically falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. In Australia, this celebration and festival centres around the appreciation of the full moon and the gathering of families and friends.

Photo: Traditional mooncake and green tea are consumed during the Mid-Autumn Festival

One of the most iconic elements of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake, a sweet pastry traditionally filled with lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk. In Australia, you can find an array of mooncake flavours, from the classic to the innovative, catering to a diverse palate in many Asian food shops and in the Chinatown areas of main cities like Melbourne and Sydney. Mooncakes have become a symbol of unity and togetherness, as families share these tasty treats under the moonlight.

In Sydney and Melbourne you will also find lantern parades and cultural performances that light up the night during the Mid-Autumn Festival to honour this cultural tradition. The sight of intricately designed lanterns, from traditional shapes to modern creations, is a feast for the eyes. These parades showcase the rich tapestry of Chinese culture and offer an opportunity for Australians of all backgrounds to immerse themselves in the celebrations, and indulge in the gastronomic adventure at the Moon Festival and enchanting atmosphere.

Dragon Boat Festival in Australia

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival or Tuen Ng Festival, is another cherished tradition. The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday which occurs on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month and is also known as “Double Fifth Festival”. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm, featuring the iconic dragon boat races, delicious zongzi (rice dumplings), and cultural performances.

The racing boats are typically made of wood and carved like a dragon. The drummer takes the front position and sets the pace through drum beats to energise and encourage the team to win the race. In the south and east of China’s coastal areas, there is often a ritual ceremony, and offerings will be held to pray for family safety and protection during summer’s typhoon season before the dragon boat races begin.

Dragon boat races have become a highlight of the festival in Australia as teams of rowers, both local and international, paddle vigorously to the beat of a drum, competing for glory and showcasing their athleticism. Spectators gather along riverbanks to cheer for their favourite teams, creating an electric atmosphere reminiscent of the festival’s origins in China.

Photo: Dragon Boat Festival race

Zongzi, the  savoury and sweet parcels of glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, are a culinary delight that festival goers can enjoy during the Dragon Boat Festival. 

Photo: Zhongzi glutinous rice dumplings enjoyed during Dragon Boat Festival

Beyond the dragon boat races and zongzi, the Dragon Boat Festival in Australia may also feature cultural performances, martial arts displays, and traditional music. These events serve as a bridge between different communities, promoting cultural understanding and appreciation.

A Fusion of Cultures

The Mid-Autumn and Dragon Boat Festivals have blended within the multicultural fabric of Australia and allow an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to come together, and learn about Chinese and wider Asian traditions and cultures, while appreciating the beauty of diversity.

We spoke to Jing Jing Laurens, a student at Navitas Skilled Futures, Bankstown, originally from Malaysia, who celebrates the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival and the Happy Dragon Boat Festival. We asked them to provide some insight into this significant holiday celebrated worldwide. 

Can you provide a brief overview of either the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival or the Happy Dragon Boat Festival?

Sure, the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals and falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, usually in September or early October. This festival celebrates the harvest season and reunions with family and loved ones. During this festival, people gather with their families and friends to appreciate the full moon and eat moon cakes, a traditional pastry filled with various sweet or savoury fillings. Moon cakes are often exchanged between families and friends as a symbol of unity and good wishes. Lantern displays and other cultural activities are also held during the festival.

Please can you explain its meaning, what it observes and how it is practised in your country of origin?

In Malaysia, both the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival and the Happy Dragon Boat festival are celebrated by the Chinese community, who make up a significant portion of the population. These festivals hold cultural and traditional Importance.  

What does Happy Mid-Autumn Festival or the Happy Dragon Boat Festival mean for you personally?

For me, the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival and the Happy Dragon Festival are occasions to celebrate my cultural heritage and spend time with family. During the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, my family and I gather to appreciate the beauty of the full moon, exchange mooncakes (pictured above) and light lanterns together. A little like Thanksgiving.

What traditions do you observe/practice?

On the Happy Dragon Festival, we cheer for the teams competing in the dragon boat races which are held in rivers and lakes across the country. We eat the delicious savoury zongzi prepared by my mum – it is made with Chinese sticky rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves as a triangular shape and they can be filled with red bean paste, Chinese dates, or cured meat, depending on the region. The rice dumplings are traditionally eaten during the Happy Dragon Boat Festival. These festivals hold great sentimental value for me as they allow me to connect with my roots and create lasting memories.

How will you and your family members be recognising the Happy Mid-Autumn Festival or the Happy Dragon Boat Festival in the coming year?

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a family reunion festival. Even though my hometown is far away from Australia, I will still celebrate Mid-Autumn with my loved ones, family and friends here. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, we enjoy the full moon, have a barbecue and eat mooncakes, Pomelo fruit and drink some Chinese tea together. My daughters enjoy the wonderful moments and carry the beautiful lanterns around the yard.

Photo: Rosslyn (left) & Mulan (right) Laurens celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival in Sydney

If a colleague wants to wish you well during this time, how should they phrase the greeting?

For the Mid-Autumn Festival greetings, I will say something like: “Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the gentle glow of the moon illuminate your path and fill your heart with joy. Or, Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Wishing you a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, bliss, and happiness! Hope this round moon brings you good fortune and a harvest of smiles for you and your family!”

Meanwhile, for the Dragon Boat Festival greetings, I will say: “Happy Dragon Boat Festival! Wishing you and your loved one a joyous and prosperous Dragon Boat Festival! May this special occasion bring you closer to your family, friends, and the traditions that bring us together. Wishing you a career like a dragon boat rapidly progressing, a family as sweet as red dates and health that sticks to you like glutinous rice and doesn’t fall off! Happy Dragon Boat Festival.”

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