Winter Solstice, also called Winter Festival is not only an important solar term, but also a traditional folk festival in China. Many Winter Solstice rituals are held to celebrate it, in addition to the most well-known eating dumplings in north China and glutinous rice balls in the south. Here are 16 Winter Solstice rituals in different places of China.
1. North China: Eat Dumplings on Winter Solstice
Dumplings are an ancient Chinese pasta. The northerners eat dumplings during Chinese New Year. In ancient China, Winter Solstice was as important as the New Year, so the dumplings should not be in absence. This Winter Solstice ritual is related to Zhang Zhongjing, a Chinese medical scientist who invented dumplings to treat people who suffered from ear frostbite. After being cured, people ate dumplings on Winter Solstice to commemorate him. Nowadays, there is still a saying that eating dumplings on Winter Solstice can protect ears from frostbiting.
See also Winter Solstice Folklore: 8 Stories in China
2. South China: Eat Glutinous Rice Balls
Eating glutinous rice balls is a traditional Winter Solstice ritual and is especially popular in southern China. Glutinous rice balls are locally called Tangyuan or Tangtuan. On Winter Solstice, they are used to worship the ancestors and given to relatives and friends as gifts. The Winter Solstice is a day with the longest night of the year. In ancient times, women got up before morn and boiled tangyuan to worship the ancestors, then the whole family sit together to enjoy the festival food. Eating tangyuan in the Winter Solstice celebrates not only the day gradually become longer but also family reunion. In the old days, Shanghai people liked tangyuan most. They ate glutinous rice flour balls at the dinner on Winter Solstice together with the newly brewed sweet white wine and flower cake.
3. Beijing & Suzhou: Eat Wontons
Beijing has the saying that “Winter Solstice with wonton and Summer Solstice with noodles”. Eating Wonton is good for warming body up in the cold winter. Suzhou people believe the Winter Solstice is the last day of the year and they celebrate the festival to welcome the New Year, so the festive atmosphere is very strong. Suzhou people have a lot of food for the Winter Solstice. They have reunion dinner with families and the names of the dishes are very meaningful. The egg dumplings are called yuanbao, a shoe-shaped gold; the sprouts are called lucky vegetable; the noodles are called golden chains; the fish implies surplus. Wonton is a staple food and the must in the dinner. There is a story behind this Winter Solstice ritual. Xi Shi, a beauty in Spring and Autumn period (770 - 476 BC), made wontons
for the king of Wu state where present Suzhou is located and the king liked it very much. Therefore, Suzhou people eat wontons to commemorate Xi Shi, the inventor of wonton.
4. Hangzhou: Eat Glutinous Rice Cake (Niangao)
From the end of the Qing Dynasty
(1644 - 1911 AD) to now, Hangzhou people have being eaten rice cakes during the Winter Solstice. Three different flavors of rice cakes are prepared for three meals of the day. The breakfast is rice cake with sesame powder and sugar; the lunch is fried rice cake with shredded meat; the dinner is rice cake soup. People eat it mainly for its auspicious meaning of “gao”, literally “higher” and “better”.
5. Shandong: Worship Confucius and Enjoy Mutton Soup
Mutton can warm body up which is suitable for cold winter. There is a Winter Solstice ritual to enjoy mutton soup in Shandong which started in Han Dynasty
(202 BC- 220 AD). According to the folktale, Liu Bang (256 BC- 195 AD), the founder of Han, ate mutton on the day of the Winter Solstice and highly praised it. So people started eating mutton and other nourishing food on Winter Solstice day to pray for a lucky year.
It is said the Winter Solstice is the Teacher’s Day in ancient times. In Shandong, students worship Confucius
, the great educator and thinker, to show gratitude to their teachers.
6. Ningxia: Special Mutton Soup called Tounao
In Yinchuan, Ningxia, people eat vermicelli with mutton soup, called tounao by local people. The soup is made of mutton, mushrooms, onion, ginger, garlic, pepper, and soy sauce. After the soup boiling, add the vermicelli and top with garlic sprout, coriander and scallions. It is also a specialty snack in Yinchuan.
7. Guangdong: Siu Mei (Roasted Meat)
On the Winter Solstice, siu mei (roast meat) is an indispensable traditional food in Guangdong. Cantonese-style roasted meat can be subdivided into roast suckling pigs, barbecued pork, roast goose, roast duck, and roast chicken. Although the production process of each kind is not the same, the taste is all slightly sweet.
8. Hong Kong: Family Reunion Dinner
For Hong Kong people, Winter Solstice is as important as Chinese New Year. The whole family gather together to enjoy a reunion dinner, which must be carefully prepared. The markets bustle earlier than usual, listing a large number of cooking materials for the dinner. Shops selling roasted meat always have the most customers. Some restaurants even launch the “Winter Solstice Package” days before.
9. Teochew: Worship Ancestors and Eat Sweet Balls
In Chaoshan folks, people prepare pork, chicken, and fish to worship ancestors before noon and the family members are reunited for lunch. In some coastal areas, people worship the ancestors in the early morning before the fishermen set out for fishing, for they can plead the gods and ancestors to bless the fishermen during the worship.
Eating sweet balls made of glutinous rice is almost universal in the entire Chaoshan area. After people worship the ancestors with sweet balls on this day, they put some on their roofs, beams, and rice tanks for that they believe the sweet balls can bless next year with bumper harvest and luck.
10. Xiamen, Fujian Province: Eat Jiangmu Duck
Xiamen people like ducks very much. They eat ducks all year round, salt ducks, sauce ducks, roast ducks, and ginger ducks specially for the Winter Solstice. The ginger duck is made from red-faced duck. First fry the duck with sesame oil, then stew it with ginger, rice wine and other seasonings. Jiangmu duck smooth the liver, nourish the stomach and strengthen the spleen. People often buy jiangmu duck rather than make by themselves. So, many people would stand in line to buy jiangmu duck on Winter Solstice day in Xiamen.
11. Hakka: Make Wine on Winter Solstice Day
Hakka people believe that the water in Winter Solstice is the tastiest and the wine made of the water is smooth and sweet, so they make wine in Winter Solstice, which has become a Winter Solstice ritual.
12. Taiwan: Worship Ancestors with Nine-layer Cakes
In Taiwan, the tradition of worshipping ancestors with nine layers rice cakes is preserved. The cake is named because it contains nine layers of glutinous rice. Besides, people made the glutinous rice doughs into chickens, ducks, turtles, pigs, cows, sheep and other animals that symbolize good luck, and then steam them for sacrifice. On the day of the Winter Solstice, people with the same ancestors gather together to worship the ancestors one by one from the old to the young . After the worship, there will be a banquet for people who come to worship the ancestors.
13. Yunnan: Eat Ciba Cakes
In Yunnan, there is a Winter Solstice ritual of eating ciba cakes which is made by pounding steamed glutinous rice. On this day, the family sit around the fire basin and bake ciba cake on the fire. If there are someone coming for visit, the best food to welcome the guests is also ciba.
14. South China: Glutinous Rice Mixed with Red Beans
In Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang and some places in the south, people eat rice mixed with red beans at the Winter Solstice night. It is said that ghosts and devils are afraid of red beans, so people cook red bean rice on the day to evade the epidemic and prevent disease. Scientifically, the glutinous rice can nourish the body and warm up the whole body which is suitable for cold winter.
15. Zhejiang: Eat Buckwheat Noodles
In Zhejiang, people eat buckwheat noodles on the Winter Solstice day. The whole family gather together, and the daughter who is married should go back to her husband’s family to eat the noodles. They believe buckwheat noodles can help to remove dirty foreign matters in stomach.
16. Ningbo, Zhejiang: Sweet Potato Soup with Glutinous Rice Balls
People in Ningbo eat sweet potato soup with glutinous rice balls in the Winter Solstice morning. Sweet potato in Chinese has the meaning of bad things are over. Glutinous rice ball indicates family reunion. They also make roast rice cake on the day to express their best wishes.
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- Last updated on Dec. 06, 2022 by Gabby Li -