The winter solstice is commonly known as midwinter which refers to the halfway mark of the cold icy season.
The winter solstice day is a day that goes through the shortest day but longest night of the year in territories located in the northern hemisphere.
The actual day itself would fall on either the 21st, 22nd or 23 December. This flexible festival date is due to the differences between western and eastern calendars.
It also marks the day of the winter solstice festival known in mandarin as dong zhi (冬至).
During the festivities, people from northern China would feast on dumplings (嬌子) while those from the south would indulge in sweet glutinous rice balls (湯圓).
In historical records of the festival, which goes as far back as 2,500 years, the winter festival is as monumental a celebration as the spring festival.
It was supposedly positioned as a festival for the commoners and governments would hold huge celebrations to show appreciation to the people for their contributions towards the greater good.
Custom origins of winter solstice festival
Other than feasting, which is a default way of celebrating festivities across all cultures, the most prominent custom practiced during this day is in the consumption of dumplings and glutinous rice ball.
The dumpling eating tradition is said to have originated from a physician named Zhang Zhong Jing (張仲景).
Folklore has it that Zhang witnessed many people suffering from the effects of the cold such as frost bite on a cold winter day. In an effort to make a difference, he used his knowledge of TCM to cook up a soup dish that included ingredients such as mutton for people to fight the cold. When the ingredients were cooked and ready, they were extracted and wrapped with dough. The final product was amusingly shaped like ears… reminding those who consumed them of the many people who have ears that were suffering from frost bite. The dish was named ju han jiao er tang (祛寒嬌耳湯), which basically translates to cold-fighting dumpling ear soup. People started brewing the dumpling soup annually during winter solstice.
The glutinous rice making and eating tradition is linked to a bad man in Jiang Su (江苏) of northern China.
It was said that he died on a winter solstice day and became an evil force that wreaked chaos to villages. For some odd reason, he was afraid of red beans and the people started to make sweet glutinous rice balls filled with res bean paste to protect themselves from the evil force. It helps that this dessert was particularly delicious too.
In Taiwan, an unusual practice somehow became widespread.
People would stick the rice balls on their doors. Supposedly to protect from evil spirits.
It was also written in historical records that during winter solstice, emperors would take part in rituals to pray to the Jade Emperor.