The Dongzhi Festival or Winter Solstice Festival is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dongzhi solar term (winter solstice) on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. It is a festival even equivalent to the New Year in the past, telling people that the winter days have come formally. It is also known as “Chinese Thanksgiving”, The coming of winter is celebrated by families and is traditionally the time when farmers and fishermen gather food in preparation for the coming cold season. It is also a time for families to come together.
1. The Origin of Winter Solstice Festival
According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, one year can be divided into 24 solar terms, and the Winter Solstice is one. The Winter Solstice Festival has its origins in the Chinese concept of yin and yang, which represents balance and harmony in life. It’s believed that the yin qualities of darkness and cold Winter Solstice Festivalare at their most powerful on the shortest day of the year, but also at their turning point to give way to the light and warmth of yang. For this reason, the Winter Solstice Festival is a time for optimism. This festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. It is believed that the yin qualities of darkness and cold are at their most powerful at this time, but it is also the turning point, giving way to the light and warmth of yang. For this reason, the Dong Zhi Festival is a time for optimism. Dong Zhi is celebrated in style. The longest night of the year is a time to put on brand new clothes, visit family with gifts and to laugh and drink deep into the long night.
2. Some believe it is more important than CNY
Some Chinese families here believe that the Winter Solstice Festival (or Dong Zhi) is more important than the Chinese New Year. It is the largest Chinese celebration in the world. History states that during the Zhou and Qin dynasties between 1046 and 207 BC, Winter Solstice was the beginning of a new year. This was when ancestor worshipping ceremonies and family reunions happen.
3. “Tang Yuan” – The colourful Balls
In parts of South China, the night on this day is the longest during a year, so “Winter Solstice rice ball” are made at this night. Children are happy on this day and usually make the rice balls in shape of cute animals. And the rice balls are must ate by couple for good luck. If two balls are left at last, the married will have all their wishes; if one, the unmarried will have success. Fruits and food are used to sacrifice to the ancestors. Chinese families often come together to make these rice balls together to symbolise reunion. Each family member would then get at least one ball that is bigger than the rest.
4. Also Celebrates with the Dumpling
Yes, Chinese living in southern Chinese and other parts of the world do celebrate eating tangyuan during the Winter Solstice Festival. But in northern China, people actually eat savoury dumplings.
This tradition apparently came from a guy named Zhang Zhongjing who lived during the Han dynasty. He was a famous medical scientist who saw the poor suffering from coldness and hunger during winter. Many of them suffered from severe chilblains (small and itchy swellings on the skin because of reaction to the cold) on their ears.
Zhang decided to make dumplings stuffed with lamb, medicine and other ingredients to feed the poor and keep them warm. These dumplings were apparently uniquely shaped like ears, which led to the dumplings we know today.
5. We Are Now A Year Older
Old traditions also require people with the same surname or from the same clan to gather at their ancestral temples to worship on this day. There is always a grand reunion dinner following the sacrificial ceremony. The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in he 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 Chinese New Year.
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