Dongzhi 2023 (Winter Solstice)
Dongzhi Festival (Winter Solstice) 2023 falls on December 22nd.
As an important traditional festival in China, it has a very long history and essential customs. Chinese people worship heaven, the earth, and ancestors on the date. By counting nines and eating traditional winter solstice foods, people wish for a great harvest and good fortune in the coming year.
There is a saying “the Winter Solstice Festival is as important as the Spring Festival!”
What Is Dongzhi Festival?
Dongzhi originally is the 22nd term of the 24 solar terms in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Dongzhi (冬至 dōng zhì) means winter is coming. It is the shortest day of the year, and the weather will become colder and colder on this day.
Dongzhi originates from to Chinese traditional Yin and Yang concept. Yin energy reaches the highest influence on winter solstice day. After the day, the daytime becomes longer, because Yang's energy or positive things will become stronger. It is a turning point with the start of another solar term.
Dongzhi Festival Date 2023, 2024
The Winter Solstice is not on a fixed date but varies slightly on the Gregorian calendar. Usually, it falls on December 21 or December 22.
Why Do Chinese People Celebrate Dongzhi Festival?
The history can be dated back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). During the Winter Solstice, the Chinese emperor and his officers would hold a sacrifice ceremony to express their respect to Heaven. The commoners would worship the gods, and ancestors and pay respect to the elders. It was an optimistic day with a reborn and a new beginning. Chinese believes the bad things and dark have gone and a better new year is coming.
Nowadays, Dongzhi Festival is a time for a family reunion, but it is not a public holiday yet. Chinese people will spend time with family and loved ones on that day. There is always a reunion dinner after the sacrificial ceremony. Traditional food such as dumplings and tangyuan are commonly seen at the banquet. Dongzhi Festival is known as "Chinese Thanksgiving Day".
How Do the Chinese Celebrate the Winter Solstice?
There are 3 main traditions of the Chinese Winter Solstice. They worshipped ancestors and Heaven, counting the Nines of Winter song, and eating traditional winter solstice foods.
1. Worshipping Ancestors
At the Dongzhi Festival, every family put the family’s ancestral tablets and photographs on the home altar. They burn incense and Joss papers and prepare food offerings for the ancestors.
Worshiping ancestors at Dongzhi is called"family sacrifice" as this day, people mainly worship their ancestors at home. While the tomb-sweeping is called "wild sacrifice" because it is held outdoors.
Usually, a few days before the Winter Solstice, households would start to get busy, buying paper money and folding paper into winter clothes.
On the day of worshipping ancestors during the Winter Solstice, people would also burn paper money and winter clothes to express their grief towards their ancestors.
2. Worshipping Heaven and Earth
Chinese people offer sacrifices and food to heaven and the earth to show their respect. The food offerings mainly include meats, teas, and wines. It is believed it will bring a good harvest and harmony the next year.
3. Counting Nines
Counting Nines is the most interesting folk in the Chinese Winter Solstice tradition. In ancient times, Chinese people found this way to count days in winter with the lunar calendar.
Counting the winter by nine periods of nine days starting from the Winter Solstice. The folk tells people about the changes in the weather and guide the in farming. They believed after 81 days starting from the Winter Solstice, spring will come. Therefore the farmers prepare for farming accordingly.
The folk is about this:
- In the first and second nine days, it is too cold to put your hands out of your coat;
- In the third and fourth nine days, you can walk on the ice;
- In the fifth and sixth nine days, you will find the willows start to sprout if you walk along the banks;
- In the seventh and eighth nine days, ice-out will come and wild geese will fly back north;
- In the last nine days, the oxen started to work in the fields again because spring is coming.
4. Drinking Rice Wine
It is a tradition to drink rice wine on the evening of the Winter Solstice night in south China. The Wine is made from glutinous rice or yellow rice and infused with osmanthus flowers.
Local people believe drinking rice wine during the Dongzhi Festival will bring them a better life.
In fact, Drinking rice wine in cold winter can help keep you warm. There is an old saying: if you don't drink winter rice wine on the winter solstice, you will freeze all night.
5. Making Tofu
People believe the weather is the coldest on this day, and tofu made with cold water is more delicious, with a rougher texture and a richer flavor. Hence making Tofu during Dongzhi become a tradition.
Families will give the tofu they make to their relatives and friends as gifts.
6. Making Cured Meat for the Lunar New Year
As soon as the Winter Solstice arrives, villages in rural areas are filled with the fragrance of sausages and cured meats.
At this time, the weather gradually becomes cold, and the New Year is approaching. It is a good time to slaughter pigs and cure meats. Chinese people believe meats cured on this day are more delicious and can be preserved for a long time.
Therefore, most families both poor and wealthy, will all cure meats and make sausages or cured meats on the Dongzhi to prepare for the New Year."
Top Foods for Dongzhi
The coldest day appears around the Winter Solstice. It is important to keep one’s yin and yang balanced during the cold season. There are typical foods for the Chinese to warm the body up and provide protection against cold weather. People use positive yang concepts when they create winter solstice foods.
In the north of China, dumplings (饺子 jiǎo zi) are a must-eat food. People make lamb dumplings with their family members for dinner. They believe they can maintain good health with ear-shaped dumplings. What’s more, the dumplings will protect their ears from being frostbitten.
Eating dumplings tradition can be traced back to the ancient herbalist doctor Zhang Zhongjing (150–219 AD). Zhang found many people were suffering frostbite on cold days. He used fatty lamb, Chinese medicine, and dough to make dumplings. Then he gave away the dumplings for free to cure peoples’ frostbite. From that time, making and eating lamb dumplings at important festivals became a tradition.
Tangyuan - Glutinous Rice Ball
Tangyuan is mainly eaten in south China. Tangyuan is a small round ball made of glutinous rice flour with sesame, red bean paste, and sweets. It is made in pink or white color and is often served in a bowl with a sweet soup. Yuan means reunion and perfect in Mandarin Chinese, therefore Tangyuan symbolizes family reunion and prosperity. Mutton soup, rice cake, and red bean sticky rice are also popular in southern China.
The tradition of eating wontons during the winter solstice originated in the Southern Song dynasty. It is said that Emperor Gaozong of Song had a strong preference for the wontons made by the imperial kitchen.
Once, when a batch of wontons was not cooked thoroughly, someone wanted to send the chef responsible for punishment. However, since this particular chef was the only one who knew how to make wontons, Emperor Gaozong pardoned him.
Later, the method of making wontons spread to the general public, with an increasing variety of fillings and shapes.
Eating wontons during Dongzhi is so popular that a saying goes "eating wontons during the Dongzhi while eating noodles during Xiazhi ( the summer solstice)"
There is a custom of eating lamb soup on Dongzhi in western China's Sichuan province. . On this day, people eat lamb and various nourishing foods in the hope of having a good year ahead.
How to Wish Happy Dongzhi Festival
When Chinese people meet on the day, they often wish each other "Happy Dongzhi Festival" or "Happy Winter Solstice". In Mandarin, this is "dōng zhì kuài lè" (冬至快乐).
How do you wish for a happy winter solstice? Here are the most popular Dongzhi Festival greetings. Choose one of them to send to your friends and family.
1. Happy Dongzhi Festival. Wishing you good health.
- Chinese: 冬至快乐，祝你身体健康。
- Pinyin: dōng zhì kuài lè, zhù nǐ shēn tǐ jiàn kāng
2. Wishing you happiness, a family reunion, and a happy Winter Solstice!
- Chinese: 祝你喜事连连，阖家团圆，冬至快乐！
- Pinyin: zhù nǐ xǐ shì lián lián, hé jiā tuán yuān, dōng zhì kuài lè
3. Merry Winter Solstice! Keep warm in winter.
- Chinese: 冬至快乐！ 冬天注意保暖。
- Pinyin: dōng zhì kuài lè! dōng tiān zhù yì bǎo nuǎn