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Enter the Dragon Boats
Chinese tradition, culture on display in annual Lake Lanier festival
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Dragon boats compete at the Olympic Venue at Clarks Bridge Park during last year's Dragon Boat Festival. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival

When: Saturday; races begin 7:45 a.m., opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m.; awards ceremony, 5 p.m.

Where: Olympic venue, Clarks Bridge Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road

Admission: Free; parking $3 per vehicle, carpooling encouraged (vans with five or more passengers and buses park free)

Broadcast: Watch live online

More information: Click here

Grab the kids, gather your belongings and head to Lake Lanier.

The Dragon Boats are back!

The 15th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is scheduled for Saturday at the Clarks Bridge Park Olympic venue on Lake Lanier.

The event has grown over the years from a handful of teams and spectators into a fall tradition, with more than 60 teams expected to take part. Some 6,000 spectators are expected to attend to watch the races and partake of Chinese culture from artisans and performers.

The races begin at 7:45 a.m. and continue all day, including the colorful Opening Ceremonies at 12:30 p.m.

Paddlers compete in slim, 39-foot teakwood or fiberglass "dragon boats" that are built in only a handful of boatyards in Hong Kong. Each carries a dragon's head at the prow and a tail at the stern.

The tradition began in Hong Kong, which held the first international races in 1976. Since then, it has extended worldwide, with numerous clubs and racing associations springing up in North America, Europe and Asia.

The Lake Lanier races are one of many scheduled to take place, with others set for Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

The sport began from an ancient Chinese legend from some 2,000 years ago. Qu Yuan, a statesman and poet in the Kingdom of Chu in the fourth century B.C., was banished from court and roamed the countryside in anguish.

As a final protest to the corruption that exiled him, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Local fishermen tried to save him, beating the water with their paddles and tossing rice dumplings into the river.

To commemorate their efforts, the dragon boat races began as a re-enactment of their heroism and Qu Yuan's sacrifice.

The cultural ties lead to specific ceremonies and rituals before the races.

Four days before the festival, the boats have their heads and tails attached and a community leader is invited to "dot the eye" of the dragon.

It is believed that the community that holds dragon boat races will be blessed with prosperity.

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