What does the Winter Solstice mean to you? Do you know about this festival? Have you ever wondered where the practices and traditions that people carry out during this auspicious celebration come from?
The Winter Solstice is a festival celebrated by Chinese culture all around the world in countries such as China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The Winter Solstice is often referred to as the Dongzhi Festival also known as the “Little Lunar New Year” symbolizing the start of a new year. However, in actual fact, the Winter Solstice is most noted for it being the shortest day of the year. This is because the Tropic of Cancer and the Northern Hemisphere is facing directly at the sun at 90 degrees making it the shortest day and the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice, days get longer and the night gets shorter which according to the Yin and Yang concept will increase the positive energy in the body.
Image from Farmers’ Almanac
One of the most exciting parts of the Winter Solstice is of course the traditional dishes - tangyuan (glutinous rice balls), dumplings, red bean porridge including the nine-layer cake. Tangyuan has a similar Chinese word “tuanyuan” which means reunion and is traditionally eaten with sweet or salty soup with meat is the perfect way to enjoy them. The Taiwanese make nine-layer cakes as well as consume tangyuan during the Dongzhi Festival as offerings to their ancestors. The cake is a steamed glutinous rice cake in the shape of prosperous animals such as chickens, tortoises, pigs, ducks, cows and sheep. The tangyuan that has been used as offerings are also used as protection for their children to get rid of the evil spirits. In South Korea, they will normally have a bowl of red bean porridge, known as patjuk to indicate that one has become older and will need to act in a more mature manner.
Image from Matador Network
There are also people who eat dumplings during the Dongzhi Festival which is a must for those in Northern China. Zhang Zhongjing, an ancient doctor of the Eastern Han Dynasty invented dumplings to help people cure their frostbitten ears during the Dongzhi Festival in ancient times.
There are certain actions that are to be abstained from during the Winter Solstice period like the burning of midnight oil and having frequent sexual intercourse with partners during the Winter Solstice. These traditions have been passed on by each generation as it is believed that those who don’t avoid such activities will become weaker during the festival. Yin and Yang energy becomes prominent during this time, causing those who do not abide by the abstinatuions losing Yang energy which can lead to contracting diseases.
The older generation also believe that their daughter-in-laws are not allowed to visit their mothers during the Winter Solstice as it may bring misfortune to them. However, the actual concern of this was that because Dongzhi is so cold, the fear was that the in-laws would suffer from cold and no one would take care of them during the frigid weather. Since tangyuans signify reunion and longevity, it is encouraged to not consume them in odd numbers if you do not want your good fortune to be affected.
It is important to remember the traditions that we are taught so that we can pass on the knowledge onto the generations after us to make Winter Solstice a long lasting celebration. Learning more about a new culture and celebration is a great experience and always a good feeling when one is able to better understand the various cultures and celebrations out there. Finally, we at YOUth would like to wish all of you a Happy Winter Solstice! Do enjoy your time with your beloved family, relatives and friends during this auspicious celebration but don't forget to stay safe!
By: Wong Zi Hang