New boats for the 25th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival scheduled for next month at Flushing Meadows Corona Park were unveiled Thursday morning with an awakening ceremony of ritual blessing before the big races.
According to organizers, the Dragon Boat Festival is the largest multicultural event of its kind in New York, drawing over 15,000 people last year.
At Thursday’s event, a demonstration by Shaolin martial artists began the kickoff of the pre-race festivities, and then officials, event organizers and sponsors were guided by a Buddhist monk in blessing the boat with incense and dotting the eyes of the carved dragons with red paint.
Organizer Henry Wan highlighted the variety of offerings to be enjoyed at the festival, including a land performance, stage performance, martial arts, multicultural song and dance, as well as souvenir giveaways from local and corporate sponsors.
“It’s an event for the whole family, and it’s free, so come and visit us,” Wan said.
The two-day racing festival has grown considerably since its 1991 debut, which commemorated the New York arrival of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, from 10 boats in the first year to over 200 in 2015. Racers are competing to win cash and prizes, and to encourage past participants to be a part of the event this year. A “senior” discount will also be available for those over the age of 40.
The Chinese tradition of dragon boat racing is an annual rite to honor Qu Yuan, a outspoken poet who drowned himself in third century B.C. to protest against the policies of the emperor in his home state. According to the legend of Qu Yuan, the local fishermen raced out to the river to save the poet, but were unsuccessful. During their frantic dash they beat drums and splashed their paddles to prevent fish and water dragons from eating his body, a move which is echoed by drums still used in today’s races.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said that the event was a chance to welcome an international crowd and show off the cultural offerings of Queens. She was involved in the event’s first year while working in the office of former Borough President Claire Shulman.
“It is exactly what Queens is about: having an international event where folks are coming from all over the world,” Katz said. “But really, the greatest participants are those that live right here, that have chosen to make Queens their home.”
Suzanne Brienza, an area manager of HSBC Bank who will be rowing as part of its team, the Red Dragons, said that her company has been practicing every week since April in anticipation of the competition. The bank has been an active part of the race as one of its original sponsors, and Brienza felt confident of their ability to win.
“It all depends on being in sync, and then the speed,” Brienza said.
This year’s festival will take place on the weekend of Aug. 8 and 9 at Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Races will begin at 9 a.m. and the festivities will last on both days until 5 p.m.