2, 500 Years’ History of Winter Solstice in China

The Winter Solstice history in China can be traced back to 2,500 years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), ancient Chinese has found the special time point, the shortest day of the year by observing the length of shadows. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), the Winter Solstice was confirmed as Dongzhi Festival. In Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD), the Winter Solstice was further developed, and people would worship their ancestors and gods on that day. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1368 - 1911 AD), it was even grander, and the emperor would worship the Heaven on this day. Since the Republic of China, Winter Solstice has been celebrated as the Winter Solstice Festival till today.


Winter Solstice was first found in China 2,500 years ago!

In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC) more than 2,500 years ago, China had used Tugui, an ancient timing instrument to observe the movement of sun and found the shortest day of the year. It was the earliest affirmed solar term among the twenty-four solar terms, and the time is between December 21 and 23 in the Gregorian calendar. At that time, Winter Solstice was celebrated as the New Year. This custom continued till the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BC).


Set as an official holiday in Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD)

During the reign of Liu Che in Han Dynasty, the first day in the first lunar month was set as the beginning of a year and celebrated, and Winter Solstice started to be celebrated as an indivudual festival. People attached great importance to the Winter Solstice and called it the “Winter Festival”. On this day, not only would a grand ceremony be held, but also would officials take a day off, the frontier passes and shops be closed. People visited relatives and friends and gave gifts to each other. 

Prospered in Tang and Song Dynasties (618 – 1279 AD)

The Winter Solstice had a high status in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD). The officials had a seven-day long vacation. On that day, the emperor would hold a sacrifice ceremony to worship the Heaven in the suburb, common people would go home for family reunion, worship the gods and ancestors and pay respect to the elders. And the poets and literary men would write poems to extol the day. Most of the well-known Winter Solstice poems we know today were written at that time.

The celebrations were even grander in Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911 AD)

In Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1368 - 1911 AD), a place was specially built for emperors to worship the Heaven on Winter Solstice day, Temple of Heaven. To express their respect to the Heaven, they would have a bath and abstain from meat and wine one day before the Winter Solstice day. The second day after the ceremony, the emperors would accept the ministers’ respect and congratulations in the court.


Celebrated as Winter Solstice Festival nowadays but not as grand as before

Since Republic of China (1912-1949), Winter Solstice has not been celebrated as grand as in the ancient times but some folk customs have been passed down. Presently, the most popular customs are that people eat dumplings in north China and glutinous rice balls in the south.

Winter Solstice History in Other Countries - Over 1,700 years

Except China, other countries celebrate Winter Solstice as well. According to written records, the Rome Empire was the earliest to celebrate it. Aurelian (215-275 AD), the forty-fourth emperor of the Roman Empire, set the Sun God the head of all gods and made the Sun God celebration day on the Winter Solstice, the December 21st of the Roman calendar in 274 AD. Since then, the Romans have celebrated the Winter Solstice for several days each year, offering sacrifices to the Sun God and other gods. North Europeans may celebrate the Winter Solstice even earlier, but there is no written records about this.

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- Last updated on Aug. 26, 2019 -
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