1. Symbolizes Family Unity And Harmony
Chinese have been celebrating the changing seasons for well over 2,500 years . The festival that fall on this date is known as Dongzhi Festival or Tang Chek (in Hokkien) . The Winter Solstice is traditionally a time for the family to get together, much as Westerners do on Christmas day. Although the festival isn’t an official holiday in China, historically farmers and fishermen would take time off from work and reunite with their families with a lavish meal. Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. In the past, many people froze to death during China’s harsh winters so tāngyuán (湯圓) were eaten because their roundness symbolizes family unity and harmony.
2. Is An Auspicious Day
Winter solstice is a solar term in Chinese lunar calendar, and a traditional festival as well. It falls on December 22 or 23 (solar calendar) every year. It is the day when the Northern Hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime in the whole year. After winter solstice, the daytime will grow increasingly longer. It is a custom to celebrate the arrival of winter solstice, which is regarded as worthy since it is the beginning of a solar term circulation. Also it is an auspicious day deserving celebration. For this reason, the Winter Solstice Festival is a time for optimism.
The reason why the Chinese people celebrate the Winter solstice is related to the theory of Yin and Yang. According to the Chinese astrology, Yang symbolizes masculine and positive, Yin has the opposite meanings. The ancient people think from the winter solstice, the Yin is at its peak and will disappear gradually. While the Yang or positive things will become stronger and stronger from the day. So winter solstice is regarded as an auspicious day to celebrate. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in.
3. One Year Older
Dongzhi is the last festival of the year, occurring only six weeks before the Chinese New Year. However, some people believe that this festival marks a turning point, and that everybody becomes one year older on this day. “People will be one year older after finishing the winter solstice dinner”, which is commonly called “tiansui” (growing older). 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.
5. Worshiping Ancestors , Heavens and Gods
The Winter Solstice became a festival in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) and thrived in the Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty. As the Han people thought of the Winter Solstice as the “Winter Festival,” officials took one day off and organized celebration activities. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, the Winter Solstice was considered as an official fixed day to worship and offer scarifies to God and to ancestors. Common people normally showed their respect to their parents and elders. Until today, people in some areas of China continue to view the Winter Solstice as an important festival.
6. The Symbolism of Tang Yuan
In some parts of Northern China, people eat dumpling soup on this day; while residents of some other places eat dumplings, saying doing so will keep them from frost in the upcoming winter. But in parts of South China, the whole family will get together to have a meal made of red-bean and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and other evil things. In other places, people also eat Tang Yuan, a kind of stuffed small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour. Tang Yuan symbolise reunion or wholeness and unity, and are also eaten during Yuanxiao or the Lantern Festival and served as a dessert on a Chinese wedding day. In old farmer society, the poor couldn’t afford meat, then they have Tang-Yuan on the Winter Solstice. A sweet soup with balls of sticky rice because its name sounds like ‘reunion’.
7. How Taiwan Celebrate Winter Solstice
The Taiwanese still maintain the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. They make special cakes in the shape of chickens, ducks, tortoises, pigs, cows, and sheep with glutinous rice flour, and then steam them on different layers of a pot. In Chinese tradition, these animals stand for auspiciousness. People with the same surname or from the same family gather around their ancestral temples to worship their ancestors. In an interesting twist, in accordance with ancient Taiwanese history, many people take some of the Tang Yuan that have been used as offerings and stick them on the back of the door or on windows and tables and chairs. These “empowered” Tang Yuan supposedly serve as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to children.
8. Winter Solstice Festival History
Zhang Zhongjing (150-219), is a famous physician in Eastern Han Dynasty. He was once an official in Changsha. When he returned home for private life, he saw people lived a very hard life and their ears were red with cold in the snowing winter. He was very sad and let his disciple cook to drive out the chill with mutton, hot pepper and some medicine. Zhang let him boiled them first and minced them, then wrap them with flour. After boiling, he gave the food to the people there. By eating this kind of ear-like food, people’s ears were all cured. Later, every winter solstice, people cook such kind of food which was called dumplings to avoid ears from being frozen.
9. A Popular Winter Solstice Festival Legend
A popular legend tells the story of a servant, Yuan Xiao, who had been separated from her family to work in the Emperor’s palace. One of the Emperor’s advisors found her crying. Yuan Xiao explained that she missed her family, and was considering committing suicide. The advisor promised Yuan Xiao that he would find a way to reunite her with her family.
The advisor set up a stall in the street and pretended to be a fortune-teller. He told all the people that the God of Fire was expected to burn down the entire city on the fifteenth day of the month. The Emperor, when he found out about this , asked the advisor for a solution. The advisor said that the city should hang red lanterns and light fireworks to make it appear as if the city was burning, which would appease to the God of Fire. As well, the advisor told the Emperor that the God of Fire likes to eat Tang Yuan, a specialty of Yuan Xiao’s. So everyone in the city had to prepare Tang Yuan on the fifteenth day of the month.
You can probably guess the remainder of the story; Yuan Xiao was reunited with her family during the Festival, there was no fire, the city celebrated, and ate copious amounts of Tang Yuan. The round balls of Tang Yuan symbolize togetherness and the reunion of Yuan Xiao with her family, as well as the full moon that they are often eaten under.
10. Types of Tang Yuan
The dough for tang yuan is a simple combination of glutinous rice flour, regular rice flour, and water.
- Glutinous Rice Black Sesame Dumplings (Tang Yuan)
- Glutinous Rice Red Bean Dumplings
- Glutinous Rice Peanut Dumplings
- Glutinous Rice Coconut Flakes Dumplings
- Dry Glutinous Rice Ball ( Loh Mai Chi )