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Celebrate in May! Holidays
Come celebrate with us in each issue as we explore the many holidays celebrated in Asian countries each month!
 
The Folklore of World Holidays
by Margaret Read McDonald, Editor. Gale Research Inc., 1992
KOI-NOBORI - Carp streamer * * * MAY * * *
 
May 5 (formerly moon 5, day 5)
Tango No Sekku, Iris Day, Kodomo-no-hi
Celebrated in Japan, now three holidays in one.

Japan

Tango No Sekku (Boys’ Day)

For each boy in the household, a carp kite is flown from a bamboo pole set before the house. The largest kite (usually red), for the oldest boy, flies from the top, with smaller kites hanging below in descending order by the age of each boy. The boys may also arrange a display of military dolls in the tokonoma or on a special stand.

Iris Day

This day is also celebrated as Iris Day. The iris is thought to be a spiritual weapon, as its upright blades defeats the goblins of the darkness and their pungent smell was believed to dispel evil. Dried leaves were often stuffed in pillows to protect the sleeper, and hung from the roof. Because of its abundant sap (water), the iris also protects a house against conflagration, thus during the fifth month, flowers and leaves are scattered over the roof itself.

On the fifth day of the fifth month, soaking in a bath of iris leaves is said to prevent illness during the summer. The petals are macerated in sake, assuring longevity. This sake is drunk by the boys, their parents, and all visiting friends.

Kodomo-no-hi (Children’s Day)

Today the day is called Kodomo-no-hi (Children’s Day). The girls also display dolls, but these displays consist of ten or fifteen well-defined figures, along with a certain number of equally standardized pieces of furniture.

Source:   The Five Sacred Festivals of Ancient Japan: Their Symbolism and Historical Development by U. A. Casal. Tokyo: Sophia University and Charles E. Tuttle, 1966, pp. 66-68.

May 15
St. Isidore’s Day/San Isidro

Philippines

Carabaos are honored on San Isidros' day. Each farmer brings his cleaned, scrubbed, manicured, and decorated carabao to town. The carabaos are assembled in the churchyard and then blessed by a priest. Afterwards a parade is held, followed by carabao races and performances.

Source:   The Galleon Guide to Philippine Festivals by Alfonso J. Aluit. Manila: Galleon, 1969, pp. 62-63.

May 31
Flores de Mayo

The month of May is the occasion for Flores de Mayo festivals throughout the Phillipines. The Christian festivals feature novenas, processions honoring local patron saints, parties, dances, and in Manila, a May Queen.

Philippines

The last day of May is the climax of this month-long flower festival. Principally a Christian festival, children make floral offerings and take them to churches. The prettiest girls take part in a procession, wearing national dress and carrying the floral offerings, symbolizing the virtues of Christian womanhood.

Source:   Celebrations: Asia and the Pacific by Gene Sawyer. Honolulu: Friends of the East-West Center, 1978, p. 47.

Full Moon (May)
Wesak Day

Commemorates the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment, and entry to Nirvana (death) of the Buddha.

Burma
Kason Festival

The main attraction of the Kason Festival is the sacred Bodhi tree, a holy Buddhist relic. Prince Siddhartha attained his enlightenhood (Buddhahood) under such a tree on the full-moon day of Kason over twenty-five years ago. The primary activity is the Kason Water-Pouring Ceremony, where people visit pagodas and monasteries with banyan trees growing on their grounds. For the ceremony, young women carry pots of scented water on their heads in a procession to the banyan trees. Devotees chant prayers for the happiness and peace of mankind and pour the blessed water on the roots of the trees.

Source:   Southeast Asia: A Cultural Study Through Celebration by Phil Sanlon, Jr. De Kalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University, 1985, p. 116.

Laos
Vixakha Bouxa

This festival occurs in the sixth month during the full moon and is popularly called the Festival of the Rockets. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Celebrations include dances, processions, and puppet shows.

One part of the celebration, Boun Bang Fay, invokes Buddha to send rain so that there will be good harvest and food for all.

Traditionally, monks made the rockets, each pagoda made of bamboo stalks and stuffed with gunpowder. In recent years, there are rocket competitions for the most brilliant, fastest, and highest rockets.

Source:   Celebrations: Asia and the Pacific by Gene Sawyer. Honolulu: Friends of the East-West Center, 1978, p. 36.

Sri Lanka
Wesak

Anuradhapura, ancient capital of Ceylon, is one of the sacred places of Buddhism where Wesak is devoutly observed. This day begins with an hour-long radio broadcast on the life of Buddha. Then at sunrise, barefoot monks walk along the streets in yellow robes, carrying brass begging bowls. People greet them with food and alms and receive merit for their good deeds. Devotees then take baskets of food and flowers to the temple, where they light candles and offer prayers.

Younger people celebrate in a more carnival spirit with painted pictures of Buddha (called pandals) erected along the streets.

Source:   Celebrations: Asia and the Pacific by Gene Sawyer. Honolulu: Friends of the East-West Center, 1978, p. 36, 37.

Thailand
Visakha

In rural areas the commemoration is observed for three days, commencing on the fourteenth of the waxing moon, and ending on the first of the waning moon (or the sixteenth of the month). Recitations and sermons are held, including circling the chapel three times in a clockwise direction with lighted tapers.

Source:   Life and Ritual in Old Siam by Phya Anuman Rajadhon. New Haven: HRAF Press, 1961, pp. 93-94.

 
* * * MAY-JUNE * * *

Moon 5, Day 5 (May – June)
Double Fifth

An inauspicious day in Chinese cultures, precautions must be taken against five poisonous insects. Dragon boat festivals are held with large canoes of carved dragon heads and tails. These races are held in the memory of a drowned third-century B.C. minister, Wat Yuen. Sticky rice dumplings, zong ze, are eaten. Disease and other dangers abound at this hot and steamy time of the year.

China

The fifth month is said to be the "Evil Month," the time of hot, steamy weather, facilitating the growth of harmful insects and germs, and contributing to the spread of infectious diseases. To expel the gods of plague, people pasted strips of yellow paper of varying lengths inside and outside of their homes. These were inscribed incantations and printed with the images of certain animal-shaped deities. Many also burned realgar, a reddish mineral which burns with a yellow smoke and foul odor. This was said to have the power to exterminate insects. In many places old women would cut red paper into the shapes of the "five poisonous creatures" (scorpion, viper, centipede, house lizard and spider) and place them, together with a cut-paper tiger, into a gourd, thus implying that all poisonous creatures and fierce beasts will be confined within and so will be unable to harm human beings.

For the Dragon Boat festival, sticky rice dumplings, zong zi, is eaten. Legend has it that people cast sections of bamboo filled with rice into the river to honor the soul of poet Qu Yuan after he killed himself in the river.

Sources:   Chinese Traditional Festivals by Marie-Luise Latsch. Beijing,China: New World Press, 1984, p. 60-68.

"The Dragon-Boat Festival" by Wolfram Eberhard in Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival by Alessandro Falassi. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1987, pp. 286- 299.

Hong Kong
Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boats in Hong Kong can be up to one hundred feet in length and rowed by as many as fifty paddlers. Dragons are believed to bring rain, and often rain falls during or just after the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong. The dragon boats come at the time of the Double Fifth when dangers and disease abound; thus their preventative powers are especially needed.

Source:   Chinese Festivals in Hong Kong by Joan Law and Barbara E. Ward. Hong Kong: A South China Morning Post Production, 1982, p.53.

Taiwan

The Taiwanese also eat sweet rice dumplings in honor of the poet Ch’u Yuan, and hold dragon boat races.

Source:   Taiwan Feasts and Customs by Michael R. Saso. Hsinchu, Taiwan. Chabanel Language Institute, pp. 48-51.

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