Dong Zhi / Winter Solstice Festival
冬至 [dōng zhì]

Dong Zhi Festival, know as Chinese Winter Solstice, is celebrated some day between December 21st and 23rd each year. Traditionally, it's a time for the family to get together. One activity during this festival is the making and eating tāngyuán 汤圆, balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion.

What is tangyuan

Tangyuan are made out glutinous rice flour and water, rolled into balls, and are sometimes brightly colored. Tangyuan can be small or large, and filled or unfilled. A filled tangyuan's filling can be either sweet or savory. The common sweet tangyuan's fillings are black sesame paste, peanuts, sweet bean paste. Tangyuan is first cooked in boiling water. Once cooked, the savory tangyuan is served in a clear soup broth, while sweet tangyuan is served in a sweet dessert soup, usually a ginger-infused syrup.

It is also often served with a mildly alcoholic unfiltered rice wine containing whole grains of glutinous rice, and often also sweet Osmanthus flowers, called jiuniang 酒酿.

Nowadays, deep-fried tangyuan have gained popularity in the Southern part of China. Filled tangyuan are put into hot oil to make its surface crispy.

The legend and traditions of Dongzhi

In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dongzhi. It is said to have originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting chilblains. Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish "qùhán jiāoěr tāng" 祛寒嬌耳湯 or dumpling soup that expels the cold. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the day of Dongzhi.

In southern China, people eat rice cake, dōngzhìtuán 冬至團, which means reunion. It is not only eaten by the family, but also shared with friends and relatives as a blessing. Mutton soup, rice cake and red bean sticky rice are also popular in South.

Old traditions also require people of the same ancestral heritage to gather at their ancestral temples to worship on this day. There is always a grand reunion dinner following the sacrificial ceremony.

Another tradition is eating hot pot.

The festive food is also a reminder that celebrators are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is "a year older" right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the lunar new year.

Some links to short clips about Winter Solstice Festival:

Winter Solstice Festival

How do Chinese celebrate Winter Solstice?

Making of tangyuan

Combining glutinous rice flour (2 cups) and warm water (1 cup) to make a dough. Roll dough into balls with a diameter of about 1 inch. For filled tangyuan, wrap filling in dough. After wrapping, tangyuan need to be boiled. The balls will float when cooked. Uncooked tangyuan can also be frozen easily future consumption.

The photos below show making tangyuan with filling.