Winter Solstice (Dongzhi) Festival

dumpling On the Winter Solstice, making and eating dumplings is a custom in the northern part of China.

In the Western calendar, the Winter Solstice falls on December 21 or December 22 when the night is longest and the day is shortest in the northern hemisphere.

The Dongzhi festival is a traditional holiday still celebrated by some that has a long history and certain customs.

  • 2017, 2018, 2019 date: December 22
  • Chinese name: 冬至, Dōngzhì, literally: "the arrival of winter"

Regional Customs

In past imperial eras, the Winter Solstice Festival was more important, but now it remains a relatively important festival only in Taiwan. In some regions of China, some families still gather together to eat a special meal, visit ancestral tombs, and worship their ancestors.

Northern China Customs

In northern China where it can get bitterly cold, the people lacked sufficient warm clothing and adequate heating, so they ate hot food and drank hot liquids to stay warm. People believed that when the days were short, there was insufficient Yang energy, and they tried to eat high Yang foods according to Chinese medicinal cuisine principals.

Historically on Dongzhi day, people went to the clan tombs to offer food and drink to their ancestor's spirits, clean the tombs, and work to maintain them. Then they gathered in the evening afterwards for hot dumplings and drinks. Some northern Chinese still follow this tradition.

jiaoziJiaozi

People ate fatty dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi /jyaoww-dzuh/) that contained meat and high Yang warming herbs such as ginger and garlic. This helped the people stave off illness and disease and stay warm. It helped them adapt to the onset of winter and buoyed their mood during the darkest days of the year.

Eating steaming hot dumplings with friends or family and eating food with special high yang herbs and spices is still a custom in northern China on the day of the winter solstice. See How To Cook Dumplings.

Southern China Customs

Some people in southern China and some Chinese in communities in Southeast Asia gather together to make and eat a meal of tangyuan (汤圆 Tāngyuán /tung-ywen/). Tangyuan symbolizes family unity and prosperity.

These are specially cooked balls of rice that might have a filling of bean paste or meat with sweet high yang herbs. These are usually pink or white colored. Tangyuan is often served in a bowl with a sweet soup or broth.

With their meal of tangyuan, they may also drink a mild rice wine that might contain cassia oil. Cassia is an herb that is high in yang and is one of China's Top 10 Favorite Herbs and Spices.

Taiwanese Customs

tangyuanTangyuan

For many Taiwanese and people of Taiwanese descent in other countries, the festival is still important. Families will go to the ancestral tombs and have meals of tangyuan, and they might offer tangyuan to the spirits at the tombs.

They also have a custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. The cakes are made of rice flour and are shaped like animals such as chickens, ducks, tortoises, pigs, cows, and sheep.

According to traditional Chinese medical concepts, winter is the time of year it is important to rest, relax and nourish the body with high yang fatty foods.

Chinese follow the behavior of animals that hibernate during winter to rejuvenate and preserve their bodies. So they rest on the day if they can, eat foods containing ginger, and enjoy ginseng and similar high yang herbs that can restore and relax the nerves and alleviate stress.

See more about Traditional Chinese Medicine.

History of the Dongzhi Festival

The Winter Solstice Festival was held as early as the Spring and Autumn Period. During the reign of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), the holiday grew in importance. It was important during the Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty when the emperors officially proscribed it as a day to worship and sacrifice to their god and to the ancestors. It has also been called the Changzhi Festival or Yashui.

Enjoy Your Winter Holiday with China Highlights

Beijing Olympic GreenTouring Beijing in Winter at the Bird's Nest

During your Christmas or winter vacations, you can tour China with our guides. You can craft your itinerary yourself. China Highlights specializes in personalized tours for individuals, families and small groups.

See our recommended tour ideas below for inspiration:

You could contact us and let us help you arrange a personalized China tour.

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