Chinese Festival: Dongzhi Festival or Winter Solstice Festival

Delicious Tangyuan served and ready to eat!
Delicious Tangyuan served and ready to eat! | Source

Have You Tried Tang Yuan?

  • Yes, I love the sweet taste and the colorful "marbles"
  • No, never heard of it
  • Yes, a couple of times
  • What's that?
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What is Dongzhi Festival?

Dongzhi Festival is one of the most popular Chinese festivals celebrated by Chinese families all over the Asian countries.

Before the Dongzhi Festival arrival, it is compulsory for the Chinese family to give thanks to the Gods of the Chinese temple by offering fruits, red oil lamp and burning joss sticks as their heartfelt gifts. The Chinese descendants thanked the Gods for blessing them with good luck throughout the year and pray earnestly for the next year good health, excel well in studies and abundant prosperity in business and work related matter.

This visit is usually done one or two weeks before the Dongzhi Festival which is held yearly on the 22nd of December.

zhang zhongjing the scholar who created Tang Yuan
zhang zhongjing the scholar who created Tang Yuan | Source

Brief History of Dongzhi

This story of how Dongzhi Festival was created had been handed down for generations. The birth of “Tang Yuan” was first originated from a scholar by the name of Zhang Zhongjing from the Han dynasty.

It was believed that one freezing winter day, he saw some poor civilians who were unable to fend themselves because of poverty, were suffering from shivers and hungers. These civilians were also suffering from frostbite; reddish, swollen and itchy skin on their ears due to cold winter.

Zhang Zhongjing was a kind man. He felt sympathetic towards the poor civilians that he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb meat and other ingredients in order to warm up the civilians’ bodies and ears to prevent the frostbite from deteriorate further.

Hence, everybody applauded for his kind gesture and followed his footsteps from that day onwards. For centuries, “Tang Yuan” main ingredients kept changing from meat to non-meat in order to cut down cost and to reduce the preparation process.

Regardless of what ever ingredients are substituted, “Tang Yuan” is still served during Dongzhi Festival where everyone in my family loved very much.

Tang Yuan means family unity and harmony
Tang Yuan means family unity and harmony | Source

What Does Tang Yuan Symbolize?

In the Chinese language, the word “Dong” means winter while “zhi” is the arrival; literally means “The arrival of Winter”. Coincidentally, it is also the last festival of the year as according to the Chinese calendar.

During the early centuries, it had been a traditional practice for the Chinese farmers to put down their farming work tools and head for home in order to welcome the Dongzhi Festival with family members. It is the wives duties to prepare the big feast which includes the glutinous rice balls also known as “Tang Yuan” to mark the special occasion that everyone have been waiting for.

According to Chinese traditional elderly folks, it is claimed that “Tang Yuan” symbolized reunion, unity and harmony in the family. Hence, it is compulsory for every members of the family to gather together at home for this special occasion. Currently, in the modern century, Chinese people do not celebrate Dongzhi with a grand feast anymore. Everything has been simplifies and shortened and make it easy to celebrate with minimal preparations.

Old folks remind their middle aged children and younger generations of grandchildren that it is time for a family gathering, to get together by returning home for a simple “Tang Yuan” sweet soup. They celebrate the coming of Dongzhi Festival by making and eating “Tang Yuan” or glutinous rice balls which signify one is a year older, should act sensibly and be a responsible person.

Pandan leave tied into a knot
Pandan leave tied into a knot | Source

How To Make Tang Yuan?

  • Usually, the daughters, daughter-in-laws and grand daughters will get together to roll out big and small glutinous rice balls and drop each of them into a big pot of boiling water.
  • Pandan (screwpine) leaves are tied into knots and dropped into the boiling water to bring out the fragrant smell.
  • In order to sweeten the “Tang Yuan” soup, some people add in rock sugar or castor sugar to produce clear soup while some add in gula melaka (brown sugar) to produce light brown soup which is less sweet and much healthier too.

Tang Yuan Varieties

During the olden days, “Tang Yuan” were made plain white color glutinous rice balls.

Nowadays, there are various creativity to attract young generations to celebrate this special festival. “Tang Yuan’ are divided into 2 portions, one part is plain white the other is mixed with red coloring or green pandan(screwpine) juice. Then, both sides are joined together and roll out before pinching a small portion, roll them into tiny balls in between both palms.

Some purposely make big glutinous rice balls to add in different fillings into the “Tang Yuan”. Now, you can purchase a vast varieties of “Tang Yuan” at hypermarket ranging from all sorts of fillings such as red bean paste, black sesame seed , kaya, coarse peanuts, black bean paste, yam (Taro) or pandan ( screwpine).

a cup of warm Tang Yuan
a cup of warm Tang Yuan | Source

Step-by-Step Guide To Make Tang Yuan

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 25 min
Yields: 4-6 people


  • 2 cups glutinous rice (tepung pulut) flour
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3-4 pieces pandan leaves/screwpine leaves, washed and tie into knots
  • food colorings, pandan, rose coloring
  • 1/2 cup of boiling water
  • 1 cup of room plain water
  • some brown rock sugar, or 2-3 tbsp granulated sugar

How To Do Photos

This is how to do it! Let them roll!
This is how to do it! Let them roll! | Source
roll it into a marble ball
roll it into a marble ball | Source
a plate of red and white rice balls
a plate of red and white rice balls | Source
Add in screwpine leaves into the soup pot
Add in screwpine leaves into the soup pot | Source
Boiling the tang yuan in a soup pot
Boiling the tang yuan in a soup pot | Source


  1. In a big bowl, mix 2 cups of glutinous flour with 1 tbps of granulated sugar. Stir a bit.
  2. Add some plain water into the flour and knead to form a dough. You should form a soft dough that does not sticks to your hands. If it still does feel sticky, add a little more flour to get the right consistency.
  3. Divide the dough into 3 portions. Add in 2 drops of food coloring (Red Rose Flavor) to the one portion of dough and another coloring (Green Pandan Flavor) into the other dough. Do not add anything into the 3rd dough. Let it be natural white.
  4. Sprinkle some flour onto a flat plate so that the rice balls do not get stuck onto it which you may find it difficult to remove the rice balls later. Start from the red dough. Roll it into a long dough that resembles a stick. Use a butter knife to cut them several small sections. Roll each section into a small marble ball by using both palms. Repeat until the red dough is used up. Repeat the same procedure for the green dough and white dough until you get many marble balls.
  5. Next, the sweet soup. Boil half pot of water. It is wise to use a big soup pot if you are making 60-100 rice balls depending on the size you had rolled. The bigger rice balls, use medium soup pot. Add in knotted screwpine leaves (pandan) and let it boil under medium fire for 5-10 minutes. Add in some brown rock sugar or 2 tbsp of granulated sugar ( as according to your taste). Add in a piece of slightly pounded ginger. Test the soup. Add in another 1tbsp of sugar if it taste bland.
  6. Add in colorful rice balls , one at a time into the boiling soup. Lower the fire. As soon as it floats, quickly transfer the “floated” rice balls into individual rice bowls. When the rice balls floated, this means that they are cooked and ready to eat. Scoop some sweet soup into the rice bowl and serve hot.

Learn How To Make Tang Yuan

Tips To Take Note:

  1. You can opt out the ginger if you don't like the taste.
  2. Use brown rock sugar or white rock sugar for natural taste. If you don't have any, just replace it with granulated sugar or brown sugar.
  3. Do not be LAZY! Do not pour in all the rice balls into the boiling soup. They will stick together to form a big messy ball. Adding one at a time allows the rice balls to float at different areas in the soup.
  4. Once, the rice ball floats, remove them immediately. Otherwise, the rice balls will turn out too soft and dilute into the sweet soup.
  5. Some old folks prefer to add in sweet fillings into the rice balls. You can add in copped roasted peanuts mixed with sugar, black sesame seeds or red bean paste which are popular.
  6. However, for those rice balls with fillings, remember to dish out the rice balls immediately when they floats as the fillings will burst into the sweet soup too.

5 stars from 1 rating of Tang Yuan

Per 3 Rice Balls

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 3
Calories 210
Calories from Fat99
% Daily Value *
Fat 11 g17%
Saturated fat 7 g35%
Unsaturated fat 0 g
Carbohydrates 0 g
Sugar 5 g
Fiber 0 g
Protein 4 g8%
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

© 2013 peachy

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Comments 36 comments

absinfo profile image

absinfo 3 years ago from India

Interesting hub. Voted up. Nice photographs. I never know about this festival. Thanks for sharing.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author


thanks for reading

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 3 years ago from Malaysia

The great thing about hubpages is learning new things everyday. For me, this article is a new piece of information despite the fact that I lived among friends who are Chinese. Now I know more of the cultures! Thanks for sharing.

kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Thank you for sharing this hub, PeachPurple! I never heard about this festival before! Very interesting!

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author


Thanks for reading. There are many more chinese cultures that I had not written yet!


Thanks for reading. Glad to share something with you guys!

Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

Interesting hub and a nice presentation of the festival. Also the recipe for the Tang Yuan seems nice. Thanks for sharing.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Interesting and brilliantly presented.

Have a wonderful day.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author


Thanks for reading. You should try out the recipe. A delicious dessert

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author


Thank you. Such sweet words

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Unique and so worth a try a quick and easy to follow recipe.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author


Thank you

Susan Recipes profile image

Susan Recipes 2 years ago from India

Wow... What an excellent recipe. Thanks for sharing.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author

thanks for reading

Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Great step by step photos in this recipe! It seems Dongzhi Festival is also celebrated under other names in other cultures too, where food is given to the poor that they might eat properly for a day...

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home Author

Yes, lots of chinese festival are related to being kind to poor

CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

Very interesting Chinese folklore story. I will have to see if I can get these in a Chinese restaurant.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 22 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


yes, interesting isn't it? I am sure you can get this on 22nd december, every chinese have this before the year ends

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

Interesting how every culture has its winter solstice festival. We are a couple days short of Christmas, which is basically our winter solstice festival. Great hub!

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 22 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


thanks, chinese winter and christian are quite different

Iris Draak profile image

Iris Draak 22 months ago from Boise, Idaho

I really enjoyed my time in China. We try to do a feast every year with Asian foods, mostly Chinese. This is definitely going into the recipe stack for the next one!

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 22 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


i am sure you are going to like tang yuan, we just had them on 22 dec

Easy Exercise profile image

Easy Exercise 21 months ago from United States

Wonderful hub! I had the privilege of trying this when we were traveling in China. Chinese food is amazing with the lack of sweetness so this is nice change of pace. Great information complete with instruction - excellent! Voted up! Sending over to my twitter account - check out @KKlineBurnett

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author

dear easy

thanks, glad that you had the chance to try at china, lovely dessert

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 21 months ago from California

What a wonderful hub! This looks like great fun!

Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 21 months ago from USA

I've never heard of these before, but they sound good. I love traditions.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


thanks audrey, it is a happy occasion for family reunion

Barbara Kay

yes, chinese traditions for celebrating festival are many

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author

thanks barbara, Chinese have festivve lots of festival, Next month, there will be chinese new year and chingay

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 21 months ago from Houston, Texas

I have never heard of this soup nor tasted it but enjoyed learning about the festival and how it originated. Thanks for your recipe.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author

thanks, do try this soup

poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 21 months ago

These look like they might be good with that purple bean paste filling. I will need to ask my Chinese friend about the winter solstice celebration. That one slipped past me.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


thanks, purple paste is the yam paste, should taste good too

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

New learning for me. I will definitely look for a place to try this.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author


thanks, i am sure you would like to try tang yuan, sweet dessert

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 20 months ago from sunny Florida

Great hub...such interesting history and the food looks so tasty. Knowing the history will make it that much more pleasing to consume.

Voting up and sharing (if share button is working...not had much luck with it lately) and g+

Know that Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Besarien profile image

Besarien 18 months ago

I wish America had an "acting more responsibly" holiday. I enjoyed learning about the traditions of Dongzhi and about tangyuan! Very informative hub! Voted up!

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 17 months ago from Home Sweet Home Author

thanks besarien, there are more chinese festivals untold yet

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