The Winter Solstice Festival, also known as Dongzhi, is one of the most important festivals of the 24 solar terms determined by the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This year, it fell on Dec. 21 of the Gregorian calendar.
Dongzhi originated around the Han Dynasty and became an important festival during the Tang and Song dynasties, when it became a day for worshipping ancestors and gods. Dongzhi is the day when the night is the longest and the daylight is the shortest in China, in the northern hemisphere. Dongzhi marks the beginning of the coldest part of winter in China; from then on, the days get colder and the nights get shorter.
Many traditions surround Dongzhi in China, such as eating special foods, gathering with families and visiting ancestors’ tombs. Depending on the area, there are many traditional foods to eat during Dongzhi, but the most significant ones are jiaozi or tangyuan.
In northern China, people eat jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings. The shape of the dumplings is similar to yuanbao, a type of currency from imperial China, and it symbolizes good fortune and wealth.
In southern China, people eat tangyuan, a type of glutinous rice balls with a sweet filling. The word “tangyuan” is a homophone for “tuanyuan,” meaning “union,” symbolizing union and prosperity for families.
Many stories surround Dongzhi as well, for example, the story of why people eat red bean rice. A long time ago, there was a man who caused a lot of trouble. When he died during Dongzhi, he became a demon that kept causing havoc, but he was scared of red beans, so people would make red bean rice during Dongzhi to protect themselves.
I recall making jiaozi with my family for the first time when I was 6 years old. I remember how my entire family gathered together, and my mom taught me how to make jiaozi. I remember how she gave me a lump of dough and told me to flatten it with my palm and roll it out with a rolling pin, I remember how I put in too much filling that it spilled out. I remember my misshapen jiaozi lined up with the ones my mom made. And I remember learning the significance of eating jiaozi during Dongzhi and thinking about my family as I made them.
For the past few years, I had started to eat tangyuan along with jiaozi during Dongzhi despite coming from northern China. Even though I am far away from home, I do not want to miss any traditions, and this year I am going to make tangyuan along with jiaozi. And as I make them, I am going to put all my good wishes in them, and hope for a good year for everyone.
Anniu Lou is a student at Los Altos High School.