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Chinese culture

Culture note: Winter solstice in China and the food for the celebration


Chinese culture winter solstice in China

image source:http://health.sohu.com/s2009/dongzhi/

Happy winter solstice!

How good — days are getting longer, but it also means that winter is coming. So I am a bit happy and sad at the same time. However, just like poet Shelley said ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ — Probably I should enjoy the winter snow, while waiting for the warm spring. :) Oops, I am sorry, I am actually in the sunny Spain being spoiled by my in-laws, and here is nowhere near snowing. :)

Winter solstice celebrations started during the Han dynasty in China, around 2000 years ago. The celebration became more popular later on during the Tang and Song dynasties, and the customs continue til today. It is normally celebrated on the 15th November of the Chinese calendar. In the past, people thought winter solstice was the natural transition between Yin and Yang, so this day was considered as a blessing from ‘above’.

During Han dynasty, winter solstice day was set as a public holiday for family and friends gathering and celebrating together. During the Tang and Song dynasties, it was a day to ‘worship heaven’ (or ‘offer a sacrifice to Heaven) and the ancestors, and hoping to get a blessing. The ceremony was quite serious, if you have been to the Temple of Heaven  in Beijing, where this kind of ceremonies took place, you probably can imagine. :)

Food — how could there be a celebration in China without food? Ha.. In China, different regions have different food customs on this day. In Beijing area, for example, it is customary to have ‘wonton soup’ on winter solstice day, and noodles on summer solstice day. In many other regions, including northern China, it is more common to have dumplings on winter solstice day.

It is said that in winter is too cold, ears are easily frozen, and the shape of dumplings is just like ear’s, so it is kind of symbolizing ‘taking good care of ear’. Of course, there are many other legends on why Chinese have dumplings on this day.

One of the stories is that having dumplings are for the memory of the famous doctor Zhang Zhongjing. He used to be an official in Changsha, but later he decided to use his medical knowledge to help people. On the way back to his hometown, it was winter solstice day, he saw so many people were frozen in the cold winter without enough nutrients. He then asked his followers to set up fire, in a big wok, he put lamb, chilli and some other Chinese herbal medicine for helping with cold in the wok, and made bread into the shape of ears, boiled it in the soup, then distributed for people to take. After having it, people felt the whole body warming up, the frozen ears were cured. Since then, people would have dumpling on winter solstice day for memorizing Zhang.

There is another traditional food – lamb dish for celebrating winter solstice day, which is particular common in Northern China. It is said that since winter is really coming, people need to prepare and take care their body for against the coldness, lamb is one of the popular food for helping warming up the body, and building up enough energy for winter.

I have some dumpling recipes here already, so my next recipe is a winter healthy recipe lamb and radish soup. Keep tuned. :))

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