Dong Zhi (Winter Solstice)

Last night, we celebrated 冬至 (“dong zhi”) or Winter Solstice, which for the Chinese is one of the 24 seasons in the Lunar Calendar. This is longest night of the year for those in the northern hemisphere, after which the night will gradually shorten and the day lengthen. In Chinese philosophy, Dong Zhi is a time when strong forces of the Yin begin to wane and weak forces of the Yang, start to rise . It’s been an important winter festival for more than 2000 years, as a time for ancestral, heaven worship, rest and celebration of the departure of ill luck, diseases and the health and good luck this will bring.

We celebrated the Dong Xi way, with Long Night candles burning through the dark, and 汤圆 (“tang yuan”) or glutinous rice balls with sweeting fillings such as red bean, black sesame and peanut, cooked in soup. The round shape of the rice balls symbolizes family union. Tang Yuan is just one of the foods eaten for Dong Zhi. People in Henan eat 冻耳 (“dong er”) or Frozen Ear dumplings to remember a kind doctor in ancient times who made these to feed the poor on the street. People in Hangzhou eat 年糕 (“nian gao”), rice cakes with various other ingredients according to times of the day, believing that eating these will make children grow taller and business more prosperous in the next year. Wontons are eaten as a form to sacrifice for ancestral worship. People along lower reaches of the Yangtze cook glutinous rice with red beans, believing that those who commit evil deeds come back after they die and haunt the living as cacodemons. Cacodaemons are afraid of red beans. More bizarrely, people in Zhejiang also gather to eat buckwheat noodles to remove any chicken feathers or pig hair that might be lying around in the stomach.

It boils down to this, be it doughy goodness, meaty gourmet or gooey sweet rice, there’s nothing as warm and comforting as a good bit of stodge in the middle of winter!

First published December 2012 on Xanga

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