Monthly Archives: December 2011

DongJie, Dongzhi and Winter Solstice

The Chinese Festival Dong Jie for 2011 fall on the 22nd of December. DongJie is Chinese Winter Festival the day when the day is shortest and night is longest for the Northern Hemisphere. It is one of the oldest Chinese Festivals and started around the Shang Dynasty(1600 to 1100BC).

During the Zhou Dynasty(1100 to 256BC) DongJie the Winter Festival was a grand day as it was the Chinese New Year day then. Dong Jie also known as Dongzhi is winter solstice. Winter solstice occurs due to the axial tilt of our planet earth to the sun orbit. Because of this axial tilt the sun “appears” to be travelling from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and back again yearly. Winter solstice occurs when the sun appears to reach the southernmost extremes of is travel.

DongJie or Dongzhi

DongJie or winter festival fall on Dongzhi day which is winter solstice

The significance of DongJie or Dongzhi is the sun appears to reach the southernmost of its travel and is returning to the northern hemisphere. In Chinese the sun is called Tai-Yang or the greatest yang – the main power source of planet earth. So the returning of Tai-yang is important. Tai-Yang brings Yang-Qi or solar energy with it. Therefore winter will be over soon when Tai-Yang returns to the northern hemisphere. Yang Qi will energize and breathe life on earth and crops will growth again.

During the Han Dynasty Emperor Han Wudi(156 to 87BC) adopted the current lunisolar calender instead of the lunar calender of the Zhou Dynasty. In the lunisolar calender the Chinese New Year day is Lichun which is the beginning of Spring. Dongzhi then became Dong Jie or Winter Festival. DongJie remains the most important festival day to the Chinese as it marks the closing of the lunisolar year before the arrival of the lunisolar Chinese New year day.

Dong Jie or Dongzhi is a family reunion day. Family members working away from home will do their best to be home for the family reunion dinner. The day is celebrated with younger family member greeting the elders and paying respect to their ancestors.

The way Dongjie is celebrated varies from place to place. Generally in the northern part of China family members get together on Dongzhi eve to make Dongjie dumplings, a recipe originated from a prominent Han dynasty physician Zhang Zhongjing. DongJie dumpling is a mixture of mincemeat and herbs in the dumpling boiled in a herbal soup. It was said that during the Han Dynasty Zhang Zhongjing used his simple formula to cure many poor folks from winter sickness.

Tangyuan or glutinous rice ball

Tangyuan or glutinous rice ball in sweet savory broth

In the southern part of China and also in south-east Asia the Chinese prepare Tangyuan during Dongjie, also known as Tangyuan festival. Tangyuan or glutinous rice balls of red and white that symbolize the harmony of Yin-Yang and reunion are prepared on the day. They are usually served in warm sweet broth. Food that keep warm and expel cold are traditionally consumed on Dongzhi.

People like us born and grown up near the equator can’t appreciate winter or feel the coldness of winter solstice. What we have is monsoon and rainy season. However we still celebrate Dong Jie or Dongzhi in keeping with our roots and tradition.