The Winter Solstice (冬至 [dōng zhì]) is at the time when the northern pole is farthest from the sun. Usually, it is a day that could fall on any day from December 21st to 23rd. The Winter Solstice in 2019 is on December 22.
History of the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival
In Zhou (1046–256 BC) and Qin dynasties (221–207 BC), people treated the November as January. As the first day of the new year, the Winter Solstice was the time for celebrating the new year. It was believed that the Winter Solstice was an important day. After the Winter Solstice, all things started to revive and formed a new cycle. During the Winter Solstice, they worshiped the heaven and the earth.
In the Han dynasty (25–220 AD), Chinese started to treat the Winter Solstice as a festival. The government should hold a celebration ceremony on the day of Chinese Winter Solstice festival, and people sent their best wishes to their friends and family members.
In the Tang (618–907 AD) and Song (960–1279 AD) dynasties, Chinese people worshiped the God and their ancestors on the Winter Solstice. The emperor held a grand ceremony to sacrifice to God in the urban area. People should send their blessings to the elders on that day.
In Ming (1368–1644 AD) and Qing (1636–1912) dynasties, besides the worship ceremony, government officials should send congratulatory letters to the emperor.
Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get-togethers is the making and eating of tangyuan (湯圓) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinous rice flour and sometimes brightly coloured. Each family member receives at least one large tangyuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl.
The festive food is also a reminder that celebrators are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is “a year older” right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the lunar new year.
Foods of the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival
In northern China, Chinese eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice festival. It gets cold in the Winter Solstice, so people are happy to eat hot food. Dumpling is a good choice. There is another interesting belief that eating dumpling can protect ears from frostbite because the shape of ears looks like the dumpling. In addition, people in Shangdong Province, located in northern China, drink mutton soup as a way of resisting cold weather.
While in southern China, they eat all kinds of tasty food on the Winter Solstice. People in Guangdong Province eat rice dumplings, also called Tangyuan (汤圆 [tāng yuán]), a traditional Chinese dessert made from glutinous rice flour. The pronunciation of Tangyuan sounds like “reunion (团圆 [tuán yuán])” in Chinese. People eat Tangyuan to express the wish of reunion. In the southeast area of China, people eat rice, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato soup. In some provinces, they drink brewed wine to celebrate this special festival.
Activities of the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival
One of the most common celebrating ways is eating dumplings. Chinese will make all kinds of dumplings with various fillings consisting of pork, beef, lotus, or other vegetables.
In ancient China, the emperor held large ceremonies to worship heaven and earth. The emperor prayed for a safe, prosperous country. Besides, government officials didn’t work on that day. They all visited their friends and relatives. However, people should work on the Winter Solstice nowadays. An important task on that day as cleaning their houses and clothes. During cold and dry days, dust scattered everywhere. So the cleaning was largely needed. On the Winter Solstice, married women must come back to their husband’s home if they were in their family home.