Winter Solstice: China Winter Festival
December 22nd was winter solstice in north Hemisphere. In Chinese calendar, winter solstice is a very important solar term, and a meaningful traditional festival derived from Spring & Autumn era 2,500 years ago. It is sometimes called "winter festival". In Spring & Autumn era (770 B.C.- 475 B.C.), ancient scientist invented a device for measuring time, Tu Gui, by which people living 2,500 years ago identified that this important day came between December 21st and 23rd in solar calendar. They knew that the day-time is the shortest and the night-time is the longest on the day in the whole year. According to Yin & Yang Theory of ancient philosophers, Yin Qi reaches the peak and the Yang Qi begins to grow on Winter Solstice, i.e. it is the coldest day, and the weather is becoming warmer and warmer. Therefore, ancient people consider it as an important day, and gradually, developed it to be a festival. People would have done some sacrifice and celebration, and royal family done some really severe ceremonies.
Note: Yin & Yang Theory derived from the observation of the nature and environment. Yin originally referred to the shady side of a slope, and Yang referred to the sunny side. Ancient philosophers believed that any existence occurred in pairs, i.e. two sides in complementary and opposing nature, which balance and condition one another, like two extremes of a scale, such as day and night, water and fire, male and female, or say positive and negative. Yin and Yang are neither material nor energy. They can be used to describe a movement either upward or downward. Upward is Yang, i.e. positive, while downward is Yin, i.e. Negative.
There are two kinds typical traditional food for the Day, Dumpling in north places and Tang-yuan in south places. In China East Han Dynasty (25 A.D. - 220 A.D.), there was a very reputable doctor, whose name was Zhang Zhongjing. During when Zhang served as the satrap (i.e. the mayor today) in Changsha city, he initiated clinics for the poor for free. Laterly, he quit office and returned to his homeland to serve for people as a professional doctor. On his road to homeland in the freezing winter days, he noticed that those poor people living on banks of Bai river all appeared flesh emaciated and face yellow because of starvation, and many people had chilblain on their ears. Then, he ordered his students temporarily set up a simple clinic shelter nearby, and put up a big pot. Doctor Zhang braised some Chinese medicines for
helping grow warmness, and lamb meat, which belongs to hotness in characteristics in Chinese medicine. Then, they made flour wrappers with those cooked materials inside, and sent them to those people in need. As a result, those people had food and medicine, and then they became better. The day was right winter solstice. Doctor Zhang called the wrapper "jiao er", which was actually the original form of dumpling. Nowadays, people in north China still keep the custom of eating dumpling on winter solstice in memory of this great ancient doctor. Unlike people in north China, where dumpling is the most representative traditional food for festivals, people in south China both in old days and in present days rarely eat dumplings. Their representative traditional food is Tang-yuan, and has become one of important Chinese traditional snack food. Tang-yuan was originated in Spring & Autumn era, but popular in Song Dynasty (960 A.D.-1279 A.D.). It is made by rolling stick rice flour into ball with fillings of fruit jam or bean paste or black sesame seed paste, and so on, really delicious. It has meaning of reunion and happiness. Englishmen call it sweet dumpling and Americans call it rice ball.
Besides those two major food on Winter Solstice Day, there are some other local food for the festival. For example, Beijingnese will eat wonton, southern charm watery towns people will eat sticky rice with red bean meal, Suzhounese will drink Dong Niang wine, which is a wine made by rice together with sweet olive flower, and Taiwanese will eat nine-storey sticky rice cake.
Winter Solstice Day has already been for over 2000 years. Although some traditions are disappearing or already disappeared in present days, some important and meaningful episodes still can be seen clearly. Old people, like my parents, still stick to every detail and teach them to their children and grandchildren.