Dragons in our calendar.
Saint George’s Day
Saint George’s Day is celebrated in some of the countries where he is regarded as a patron saint on April 23, which is the official day of the saint’s death in the General Roman Calendar. According to legend, Saint George was a roman soldier born in Capadoccia who killed a dragon that threatened the people of the city of Silene in Libia, thus releasing them from the sacrifices they had to offer the dragon. Saint George was also one of the most revered religious figures by the military classes in the times of the crusades. As the patron saint of England, Saint George’s was rather popular between the 15th and 18th centuries, but by the end of the 18th century the celebrations had waned significantly. However, in recent years some enthusiasts and cultural organizations are trying to bring the celebrations back to life. One of such attempts is St George’s Festival at Wrest Park in the county of Bedfordshire, one of the biggest events that take place in England on this day. The festival includes medieval jousts and combats, a parade of Roman soldiers, hawking demonstrations, tea parties, food and art fairs set on a medieval encampment, games for children, and a recreation of the duel between the saint and the dragon.
St Geoge’s Festival at Wrest Park
Saint George’s Day is also celebrated in Spain, particularly in the community of Aragon. One legend tells that Saint George descended from heaven to aid Pedro I King of Aragon and Pamplona in the conquest of the city of Huesca, which was under Muslim rule at the time. After the miraculous victory over the enemies, the king and his people honored him by placing a Saint George’s cross (a Greek red cross on a white field) on the banners of Aragon. Nowadays, the celebrations include musical performances, parades, literary journeys and sport events, and every April 23rd there is a recreation of the combat between the hero and the dragon at Plaza España in the city of Alcañiz, in which the beast is ultimately defeated with a bouquet of wild flowers.
Saint George’s Day – Alcañiz
The Drachenstitch (Spearing-of-the-dragon) festival in the town of Furth im Wald in Baviera is one of the oldest traditional spectacles of Germany in which the townspeople recreate the slaying of a dragon that, according to legend, terrorized the inhabitants of the region in the Middle Ages. This festival can be traced back as far as 1590, when the event used to be part of the Corpus Christi procession as a symbolic representation of the conflict between good and evil, but as for 1887 the event started to be held separately from the procession in the second week of August. The main event of the Drachenstitch is the battle between a knightly hero and a fire-breathing dragon that is keeping his wife captive, and it is performed about ten times throughout the week. More than a thousand people dressed in medieval garments and two hundred and fifty horses take part in the festival, and there are also shooting and hawking events, a medieval market, a big historical procession and a traditional German volkfest.
Tradinno, the dragon of Furth im Wald at Drachenstitch
The previous dragon of Furth im Wald was replaced in 2010 by Tradinno, a huge robot dragon of eleven tons, 4.5 meters tall and 15.5 meters long that can spit fiery and produce impressive roars. When the event is over, Tradinno can be found at its lair, the Drachenhöhle, during the summer months (between Easter and October), and if you want to see the old dragon of Furth, you can visit it at the First Dragon Museum of Germany located in this town.
Main event at Drachenstitch
The Longtaitou Festival is a traditional Chinese celebration that takes place on the second day of the second month of the Chinese calendar (between February 21 and March 21). It is literally translated as “Dragon-raising-its-head” as a reference of the creature that presides over all the other animals and dispenses the rain in Chinese mythology, an essential element for agriculture. This festival became popular among the inhabitants of northern China by the end of the Song dynasty —around the 13th century—, and then it rapidly spread to other regions, becoming one of the most important agricultural festivals of the country. It is common that at some temples people perform ceremonies for the Dragon King (an important weather deity in China), and there are also other traditions that are still observed by some people on this day. It is believed that getting a haircut during the Longtaitou festival expels bad luck, and people usually eat tofu and vegetables balls as well as Chengyao cakes made with rice, brown sugar and nuts.In fact, some foods even receive dragon names on this day: Chinese pancakes are called “long er” (dragon ears), spring rolls are “long lin” (dragon scales) and pop-corn is called “long zi” (dragon seeds). Dragon dances, musical performances and folkloric dramas are also common in this festival.
Dragon dance in the city of Qinhuangdao, China (Photo: Xinhua)
Doudou/Ducasse de Mons
The Doudou or Ducasse de Mons is a local festival in the city of Mons in Belgium. Back in 1349 when the city was affected by the black pest, the authorities decided to organize a procession with the shrine of Saint Waltrude to make the plague disappear, and it was told that this religious act put an end to the disease in the region. Therefore, since 1352 it was established that the procession was to be held each year on Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost). William I Duke of Bavaria-Straubing imposed the participation of the fraternity of Saint George in the procession in 1380, and since 1440 they added a representation of the legendary fight between Saint George and the dragon as part of the procession, and event that became very popular due to its association with the local legend of Gilles de Chin and the dragon of Wasmes. However, the religious authorities decided to separate this event from the main procession because of its less-religious origins, yet it is still held on the same date nowadays.
The celebrations of the Ducasse de Mons start the Saturday preceding Trinity Sunday until the next Sunday, and they include the procession of the shrine of Saint Waltrude, liturgical ceremonies, military bands parades, street fairs, concerts, and the “Lumeçon”, a big performance of the fight between Saint George and the dragon that takes place in the central plaza of Mons, in which the dragon and its host of imps attack the saint, his fellow riders the Chinchins, and even the public, who try to take the mane from the dragon’s tail to attract good luck.
Saint David’s Day
On March 1st the people of Wales celebrate the day of Saint David, the country’s patron saint, a historical figure that help found nearly twelve monasteries in his country, and who supposedly performed the miracle of raising a hill while he was preaching the locals in the 6th century. Despite it is not a national holiday it is traditional to hold parades, wear daffodils and leeks, eat traditional dishes such as Cawl and Welsh rarebit, and some children wear traditional outfits this day. In recent years two Welsh dragons have joined the celebrations: in 2016 a red-scaled dragon called Dewi appeared in eight different sites throughout Wales (such as Caerphilly Castle), and in 2017 a blue dragon called Dwynwen made its appearance as well, and they were both exhibited on March 1st at Caernarfon Castle. The Welsh dragon is a symbol that has been part of the country since its appearance in the banners of Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and it can still be seen in the modern flag of Wales, which consists on a red dragon passant on a green and white field that received the name of “Y Ddraig Goch” (the red dragon) in Welsh. Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Government started a campaign with these dragons (who were named after two local saints) with the objective of promoting the interest of the people in the history and culture of Wales.
Dewi and Dwynwen at Caernarfon Castle (Photo: Cadw)
Equinox at Chichen Itzá
The Temple of Kukulcán at the archaeological site of Chichen Itzá offers an amazing spectacle in the spring and fall equinoxes (March 20th-21st and September 22nd-23rd respectively). In the Yucatec Maya language, Kukulkán means “Feathered Serpent”, the equivalent of the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, a deity with quetzal and snake features that was associated with the wind, the rain and the planet Venus. Every spring and fall equinox the shadow of the nine platforms of the northwest side of the Temple of Kukulkán is projected on the northern balustrade in such a way that the sunlight forms the wavy body of a snake that seems to descend from the top of the pyramid as the sunset approaches until it finally joins the stone snake head at the bottom. For the Mayans, this did not only symbolized the arrival of Kukulkán to the earth (being both snake and bird, he represented the bond between the sky and the earth), but it was actually used to mark the seasons of the year in their harvest calendar (known as Haab) and the days in their religious calendar (known as Tzolkin).
The pyramid also produces an acoustical phenomenon that was analyzed for the first time by acoustical engineer David Lubman in 1998. When someone claps his/her hands or plays a percussion instrument at the base of the temple, the echo travels through the platforms to produce a brief but high-pitched screech that is very similar to that of a quetzal.
Spring equinox at Chichen Itzá
The equinox attracts hundreds of visitors to the Temple of Kukulkan, and during the night there is a light spectacle on the pyramid which recreates the phenomenon while the legends and stories of Chichen Itzá are narrated to the public. Traditional musical performances, dances and rock bands concerts are also common this day, and some people believe tha wearing white clothing attracts the positive energy of the sun and expels all bad luck.
Dragon Festival (Minneapolis)
The Dragon Festival on the shores of Lake Phalenb in Minneapolis takes place the first days of July each year, and its main goal is to promote the cultural integration of Pacific-Asian communities in North America. The main events are the dragon-boat races, a traditional sport that has its roots in the legend of Qu Yuan, a minister of the state of Chu during the Warring States period (500-200 BC) that was unfairly rejected by his monarch who eventually decided to enter the Milou River carrying a heavy stone to drown himself as a form to protest against the corruption of his era. When the local people learned about his actions, they searched for him in groups on their fishing boats, beating drums and paddling hard to see if he could hear them and to keep the fish and the evil spirits from his body, and they even scattered rice on the river so as to feed him. Finally, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before the people and told them that the rice they were sending him was being taken by a huge river dragon, so he asked them to wrap the rice in three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon.
The Dragon Festival at Lake Phalen also features cultural and artistic Asian activities, martial and healing arts exhibits, and traditional Asian games.
Dragon boat at Lake Phalen (Photo: Dragon Boat Festival)
Year of the Dragon
The dragon is the only mythological being among the twelve animals of the Chinese calendar, and even when the year of the dragon is not really a holiday but actually a one-year period, I could not ignore it. This cycle occurs every twelve years, and since some people believe that those who are born under the dragon sign possess certain desirable traits (such as strength, self-confidence, passion, nobility, etc.) each dragon year the birth rates usually raise in those countries that use the Chinese calendar. As it is the case with the other Chonese zodiac signs, every dragon year is assigned one of the five elements, namely earth, metal, water, wood and fire.
Some years of the dragon:
January 22nd, 1928 – February 9th, 1929: Earth Dragon
February 8th, 1940 – January 26th, 1941: Metal Dragon
January 27th, 1952 – February 13th, 1953: Water Dragon
February 13th, 1964 – February 1st, 1965: Wood Dragon
January 31st, 1976 – February 17th, 1977: Fire Dragon
February 17th, 1988 – February 5th, 1989: Earth Dragon
January 5th, 2000 – January 23rd, 2001: Metal Dragon
January 23rd, 2012 – February 9th, 2013: Water Dragon
February 10th, 2024 – January 28th, 2025: Wood Dragon
January 28th, 2036 – February 14th, 2037: Fire Dragon
Appreciate a Dragon Day
Appreciate a Dragon Day (AADD) was started by author Donita K. Paul in 2004 when she published her book DragonSpell. It is celebrated each year on January 16th, and its purpose is to explore the cultural and historical meaning of dragons in our society. We can celebrate this day by promoting literary, artistic and educational dragon-related activities, and the author has some nice suggestions for this day on her website.
Do you know other holidays involving dragons? Share them with me!