A dragon boat or "dragonboat" is a very long and narrow, canoe style human-powered boat now used in the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing which originated in China over 2000 years ago. While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international "sport" in Hong Kong in 1976. Like running, horse racing and marksmanship, the racing of dragon boats is among mankind's oldest organized competitions.
For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. At other times the decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for training purposes. In some areas of China, the boats are raced without dragon adornments.
Dragon boat races are traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival observance in China. 19th century European observers of the racing ritual, not understanding the significance of Duan Wu, referred to the spectacle as a "dragon boat festival". This is the term that has become known in the West.
Dragonboat festival racing, like Duanwu, is observed and celebrated in many areas of east Asia with significant populations of ethnic Chinese living there e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China. The date is referred to as the "double fifth" since Duanwu is reckoned as the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which often falls on the Gregorian calendar month of June, but also rarely May or July. This is because Duanwu is reckoned annually in accordance with the traditional calendar system of China, which is a combination of solar and lunar cycles, unlike the Gregorian calendar system.
In December 2007, the Chinese government added Duanwu, Qingming and Mid-Autumn festivals to the schedule of national holidays observed in the People's Republic of China, such is the importance of dragonboating to the Chinese today.