Solar Term: Winter Solstice

Editor:Amanda Wu
Source:Women of China


Dongzhi, also known as Winter Solstice, is the 22nd solar term of the Chinese lunar calendar. It usually begins around December 21 and ends around January 5. 

The Chinese character dong (冬) means "winter" and zhi (至) means "extreme," so the term usually marks the arrival of the coldest season of the year. 

Traditional Customs

Eating Dumplings

In north China, people typically eat dumplings on the first day of Winter Solstice. The custom was said to originate from a Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) physician Zhang Zhongjing. One cold winter day, he saw impoverished local people suffering from chilblains on their ears. Zhang ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor. Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish quhan jiaoer tang (祛寒嬌耳湯) or "dumpling soup that expels the cold". 

Eating 'Tangyuan'

In the area along the south basin of the Yangtze River, people like to eat tangyuan, glutinous rice balls, to celebrate Winter Solstice. They also offer tangyuan as a sacrifice to their ancestors, and give them as presents to relatives and friends.

Eating Buckwheat Noodles

In east China's Zhejiang Province, people have a family reunion and eat buckwheat noodles. They believe that the food can help clear out any pig hair or chicken feathers they may be caught in their intestines and stomach.

Eating Mutton and Vermicelli Soup

In Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, people have a tradition of drinking mutton and vermicelli soup with dumplings. They refer to the soup simply as "brain" and usually share it with their neighbors. As such, the dish has become a local specialty.

Offering Nine-layer Cakes to Ancestors

In southeast China's Taiwan, people still keep the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. People worship their ancestors at temples, following the order of each of their deceased relatives' ages. There is always a grand feast after the ceremony.

December 21, 2016