Happy Dongzhi Festival! 冬至快乐！冬至快樂！
It’s the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and people in China or of ethnic Chinese heritage everywhere are celebrating Dongzhi Festival or 冬至 Dōngzhì, which literally means “Winter’s Extreme”.
I grew up in Singapore and so Dongzhi Festival was never a big thing because it’s never winter in Singapore! It was only when I lived in Flushing Queens, New York, where there’s a big Chinese population that I began to understand Dongzhi Festival, because you know, you can’t help but feel it in the air!
The winter or hibernal solstice is when one of the Earth’s poles is tilted furthest from the sun, and that day has the shortest period of daylight of the year, and the longest night. Depending on where you are, it could mark either the middle of winter or just its beginning! Either way: it’s going to get really cold!
As they do with major astrological events, many cultures celebrate the winter solstice; not just the Chinese, but also the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and other East Asians.
Not surprisingly, the festival has a lot to do with food.
Here are some popular Dongzhi Festival Food!
Dumplings like 饺子 jiǎozi and 馄饨 húntún are a big feature in Northern China. There’s an amusing story that dumplings look ears and eating dumplings in the winter will prevent you from getting cold and frost-bitten ears! I actually like dumplings any time of the ear!
Also popular are “tonic” foods to build one’s resistance to the cold, such as lamb hotpot, duck stewed in ginger and other heat-building dishes. Ginger is used in a lot of Dongzhi Festival food.
Meanwhile, in the South, rice cakes called 冬至團 dōngzhìtuán (which literally translates as “winter solstice reunion”) are eaten.
The Chinese further down south, such as the Cantonese and Taiwanese, like to get together to make and eat colourful glutinous rice balls called 汤圆 Tāngyuán. Tangyuan are often filled with peanut or sesame paste and served in a sweet soup or savoury broth. Most supermarkets nowadays sell frozen pre-made tangyuan all-year round, so go try some! My wife remembers really enjoying making tangyuan with the family because it’s like playing with play dough and it was just so loud and messy and full of flour! Also because the glutinous rice balls are so colorful! This is a simple recipe: Dongzhi Tangyuan.
When I moved to Taiwan, I learned that Dongzhi Festival is the season for Ginger “Mom” Duck Hotpot 姜母鸭 Jiāng mǔ yā and, the season to get the body warm through Hot Springs 泡温泉 pào wēnquán. Our favorite place in the winter is the outdoor hotspring at Jiuzhizhe! And everyone starts drinking Ginger Tea 老姜茶 lǎo jiāng chá after a nice hot spring bath. All the markets will start selling cubes of Old Ginger with Brown Sugar 薑母黑糖 jiāng mǔ hēitáng. My wife loves it because she tosses it into her tea and it becomes Teh Halia or ginger tea, as sold in Singapore and Malaysia.
For our family, Dongzhi Festival comes right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. It’s often the time to cuddle up with family and eat warm stews and soups. It’s also a quiet time of gratitude for those who came before us, and restful contemplation of how our year has gone as we prepare for all the energy and activities that will surely come with the new year. Hope you have a wonderful Dongzhi Festival wherever you are in the world!
My name is Colin Goh and I’m the creator of the Dim Sum Warriors. I love dumplings and hot springs, and very very cold weather. If you enjoyed this blog post, you can register for free comics on the Dim Sum Warriors App and you will also get invitations to attend the livestream draw along that I host called the Dim Sum Warriors Doodle Date!