Date of Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice (also Winter Festival), one of the 24 Solar Terms, is a traditional Chinese festival. It usually falls on December 21st, 22nd or 23rd instead of on a fixed day. On that day, the northern hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After that, areas in this hemisphere have longer days and shorter nights.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), Chinese people identified the day with an ancient tool named an Earth Sundial. Throughout Chinese ancient times, it played an important part as an influential festival, as the proverb goes “Winter Solstice is as important as Chinese New Year”.
|Winter in Xian, China|
According to historical records, Winter Solstice was regarded as the starting point of a new year during the Zhou and Qin dynasties (1046 – 207 BC). The custom has persisted and people presently call it the Small New Year, when ancestor worshipping ceremonies and family reunions usually happen. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), it began to be celebrated as a festival, for which people had official holidays. The officials held grand ceremonies and common people exchanged various gifts for celebration. During the Tang and Song Dynasties (618 - 1279), emperors worshiped heaven and their ancestors on that day to pray for a good harvest for their people. People kowtowed to their parents and offered sacrifices to their ancestors. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911), it was a custom for emperors to worship heaven. The well-preserved Temple of Heaven in Beijing was constructed for that reason.
Dumplings are the most essential and popular food for Winter Solstice, especially in northern China. There is a legend that Zhang Zhongjing, a renowned medical scientist at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220), found his fellow-townsman suffering from coldness and hunger when he returned from his position of prefecture chief in winter. More severely, many of them had terrible chilblains in the ears. On the Winter Festival, he cooked food named Jiao Er with a stuffing of medicine and other ingredients fending off the cold to feed these people, and they recovered soon. Later people learned to make the food to create the present dumplings. Meanwhile, the saying that one’s ears will be frozen if he doesn’t have dumplings on the Winter Solstice was widespread till today.
Nowadays, there are different customs in southern and northern China.
|Dumpling is the typical food for the day.|
South part: Sticky puddings (sweet dumplings) and Tsampa are more popular for locals in south China. In their mind, the round shape of sticky dumplings symbolizes a family reunion. There are other customs; for instance, in Jiangnan area (the southern part of the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River), people have ormosia glutinous rice food and in Hangzhou, rice cakes with various flavors are most welcomed.
Aside from these, it’s said that in some areas, people also have mutton, noodles or drink winter wine for celebration. These are all hot food to help keep warm and avoid catching cold.
Sayings about Weather
The Nines of Winter (Shu Jiu) is a common custom for the festival. It refers to the nine periods of nine days each following the Winter Solstice. After that, it becomes warmer and spring will be around the corner. The folk song below not only records the weather changes, but also shows the law of farming: People cannot even put their hands in cold air in the first and second nine days; walking on ice can be achieved in the third and fourth nine days; willows on the banks start to sprout in the fifth and sixth nine days; ices dissolve and water flows freely in the river in the seventh nine days; in the eighth nine days, wild geese fly back to northern areas, and for the following days, farm cattle start to work in the field.
There are other sayings about weather in different areas:
Zhejiang: If it is fine on Winter Solstice, the first month of the lunar year will be rainy; it also works to the contrary.
Heilongjiang: If it is sunny on Winter Festival, the New Year will be rainy. If it is rainy during Mid-Autumn Festival, Winter Festival will be sunny.
Hunan and Guangdong: If it is cold on Winter Solstice, the New Year will be warm. On the contrary, the New Year will be cold.
Shanxi: If there is northwest wind on Winter Solstice, it will be dry for the next whole spring.