Winter Solstice: Dongzhi Festival

by Pushpitha Wijesinghe

The solstice marks the turning of the tide of darkness and light. Since the first dawn, our periods of Solstice have been in a perpetual motion. Solstice means, “When the Sun stands still.” Our calendar sets December 21 for winter and June 21 for Summer Solstices on Earth. The Northern and Southern hemispheres exchange the Solstices so that they are opposite of each other. So June 21st is the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. Winter Solstice has long been known as the beginning of a period of rest. Before modernization and advanced mobility,

Winter Solstice or Dongzhi Festival which is celebrated in China and eastern Asian countries is a day with less sunlight and brings together families quite ceremoniously. This is a traditional festival which reminds people that a year has passed by.

The Winter Solstice Festival or the Dongzhi Festival which literally means the ‘extreme of winter’ is a significant event that is celebrated especially by the Chinese and also by East Asians. This festival takes place when the sunlight is very weak and the daylight stays for a very short period during the winter solstice. This generally occurs around the 22nd of December. The birth of this festivity goes back to the yin and yang philosophy known as the ‘balance and harmony in the cosmos’. Miraculously after this celebration the coming days will have much longer daytime and the sun gets stronger, bringing in positive forces.

This is a time where most of the Chinese families get together. When these get-togethers happen it is a tradition for the family members to eat ‘tangyuan’ which is a gooey rice ball which signifies reunion. These rice balls are sometimes brightly coloured and made of flour; they are stuffed and cooked in sweet syrup and served in a bowl. In North China, the Chinese people simply eat dumplings on this day. This ritual is said to have derived from Zhan Zhonging during the Hang Dynasty.

The ancient traditions also involve people holding the same surname or who belong to the similar clan, congregating in their familial temples. After the sacrificial service, there is always a gala reunion feast. The delectable food reminds the people that they are one year older than they were and that they should behave and conduct themselves properly in the coming year as well.