Meaning the “summit of the winter,” Dongzhi, or Winter Solstice is not necessarily the coldest period of time in winter, but it is definitely the most important of the 24 solar terms in Chinese lunar calendar.
Dongzhi is the 22nd solar term of a year, which begins on the day with the shortest daytime and the longest night. It was also the first settled solar term in the Chinese history.
The Chinese has an old saying “Dongzhi is as significant as the Spring Festival,” since dating back to the days before the Qin Dynasty (1046 B.C. – 207 B.C.), the ancient Chinese celebrated the day as the beginning of a new year.
The peak of the coldness usually comes at the third “nine-days,” known as the “Sanjiu” in Chinese. But when the ninth "nine-days" comes, the spring would be in full swing across most part of China.
Dumplings, one of the favorite food for many Chinese people living in the north, is an indispensable part of the table.
The tradition of eating dumplings was maintained for almost all the important festivals in China, such as the Lunar New Year's Eve.
Mutton soup is also the best choice for many. A bowl of hot soup relished with chopped green onion would definitely drive away the chill.
However, whenever there are dumplings, there is the “Dumplings or Tangyuan” debate.
In the south, instead of dumplings, tangyuan, or glutinous rice dumplings is a must for many families. But traditions could be quite different even for neighboring provinces and cities.
For instance, in Anhui Province, people eat noodles on the day, while in Zhejiang Province, people cook eggs with longans and red dates.
In Jiangsu Province, many families drink rice wine tinged with sweet-scented osmanthus, while in Jiangxi Province, Maci or fried glutinous pudding is their best choice. In some cities and towns along Yangtze River, people also cook rice with azuki beans.
But whatever food they prefer, the dishes for the Winter Solstice dinner table must be nutritious, warming and beneficial for health.
Even though worshiping to the ancestors used to be the most important thing for the day, only a few areas in China still maintains the habit. In Guangdong Province, people still hang up papers in front of their ancestors’ tombs, while in Taiwan, special nine-layer cakes would be made as offerings.
As the coldest days come, people may easily catch a cold or fell ill. It is recommended that regular schedules should be maintained and a little bit sports won’t hurt as well. But coldness is not frightening at all, after all, the spring won’t be too far away as well.
Head image by Ma Xiaonan; illustrations by Gao Hongmei.