Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival

January 28, 2013 by

Festivals & Events, Things To Do

Tangyuan -- sweet dumplings served for the Winter Solstice Festival. Photo courtesy of Alpha via Flickr.

Tangyuan — sweet dumplings served for the Winter Solstice Festival. Photo courtesy of Alpha via Flickr.

With the winter solstice comes short days and cold temperatures, and in China, one of the most significant festivals of the year, the Dongzhi or Winter Solstice Festival. With the festival ushering in a new solar year and marking the beginning of winter often gets overshadowed by Western holidays and Chinese New Year, the celebration offers a unique cultural insight for visitors lucky enough to be traveling in China during late December.

A Bit of History

In ancient China, the Winter Solstice Festival was even more important than the Lunar New Year, sometimes called Chinese New Year. During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese believed that after the solstice, days became longer and so did positive yang energy. Emperors and commoners alike would spend the day offering to heaven and to deceased relatives. Today, many of the traditions continue.

Modern Solstice Traditions

In today’s China, the Winter Solstice Festival is a family-centric event. Families gather to prepare food, some of which is taken to the ancestral shrine as an offering to relatives who have passed away. After worshiping at the shrine, families return home for a holiday feast. Since the winter solstice is considered a time of prosperity and optimism, many believe you should strive to better yourself in the coming year, similar to a New Year’s resolution in the West. While many Chinese people in China and around the world celebrate birthdays, most don’t count themselves a year older until each year’s Winter Solstice Festival.

Learn more about Important Festivals and Holidays in China

The Food

The most common food associated with the Winter Solstice Festival is tangyuan, white or brightly colored balls made from glutinous rice flour and stuffed with sweet fillings like sesame paste or sweet red bean and doused in a sweet soup. The name of the dish sounds similar to the word for “reunion” in Chinese, and since the solstice is a time for family gatherings, making and eating tangyuan is appropriate.

In line with the idea of personal betterment in the new year, there’s also a focus on eating healthy, tonic foods during the Winter Solstice Festival. Since cold temperatures are approaching, families prepare high-protein and high-calorie dishes to help strengthen the body’s resistance to cold during the upcoming winter months. Popular offerings include dumplings and dumpling soup, hot pot and foods containing ginger and ginseng.

- Lydia Schrandt

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