The Boston Dragon Boat Festival returns with a lineup of festivities

After a two-year hiatus from an in-person event, the Boston Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong returned to Cambridge with a full day program of culture, food and festivities on Sunday for its 43rd celebration.

The day’s program included Asian cuisine served by food trucks, dragon boats departing from the docks and an elevated stage for cultural performances including a taekwondo demonstration, Indian dance and Sichuan opera, Bian Lian.

Under a cultural arts and crafts tent behind the stage, festival-goers practiced Chinese calligraphy, patiently played go games and folded intricate origami.

Gail Wang, president of the Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, said she was thrilled to see the year-long planning come to life for the day. Entering her second decade involved with the festival, Wang said her efforts represented a larger symbol of hard work.

“As a Chinese immigrant, having this event and working to showcase Asian culture, especially a festival based on Chinese tradition, is very moving, meaningful and personal. But at the same time, it’s also a very important opportunity to unite and work with Asian cultural groups in the New England area,” Wang said.

Participant Amy Wu grew up in the Midwest, where her neighborhood is predominantly white. As a Chinese American, this year’s festival “makes me feel more connected to my heritage.”

“It’s really nice to see events hosted by Asian Americans here as a way to connect with their culture no matter where in the world they are,” Wu said.

Since 1979, the Boston Dragon Boat Festival has been the premier dragon boat festival in the United States, and Wang said the committee held its annual volunteer-run celebration on the Charles, with the exception of 2003 when the SARS was rampant and from 2020 when Covid-19 first hit the world. In 2021, a condensed virtual version of the Dragon Boat Festival took place.

Dragon boat racers were able to register for the race in early spring. The slots arrived on a first-come, first-served basis and quickly filled up, Wang said. Teams from across the country and across Canada flooded the entry sheet.

Michelle Leung is one of the dragon boat racers. This year, she is also on staff for the Dragon Boat Festival Committee and said she was lucky to be part of the day’s festivities.

“I’m really excited for the races in general, the atmosphere, the guests, just the whole festival and seeing all these boats come back from the pandemic,” Leung said.

Leung started dragon boat racing before the pandemic at the invitation of a team member.

“I have friends and family friends who were already involved and are part of the team. And every year there are different people. They were recruiting, like, ‘Oh, we haven’t seen you in a while. Do you want to jump on this boat? And I went, ‘Say less. I am here. Let me in.

Leung said the range of activities throughout the day invigorated participants, runners, performers and even passers-by.

“It definitely brings out the Chinese culture… It feels like we’re here as a community,” he said. “[It just brings] everyone together, and other people to come and see what the drums are for…and then they can see what the dragon boat festival looks like in our culture.

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