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Origin Stories

Winter Solstice occurs when the North Point is tilted at its maximum distance from the sun, making it the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter Solstice is celebrated in many cultures, but for the Chinese, it’s celebrated as Dongzhi (冬至), which means “the peak of winter”. It’s the 22nd of the 24 solar terms and falls around the midpoint of the 11th lunar month, around 21 to 23 of December in the Gregorian calendar, and is also the last Chinese festival of the year.

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Solar Terms


The 24 solar terms refers to the 24 periods in the traditional lunisolar calendar, which ancient farmers used to track seasonal changes and plan their farming activities. Each season has six solar terms. In winter, they are the Beginning of Winter, Light Snow, Heavy Snow, Winter Solstice, Moderate Cold and Severe Cold. Winter Solstice refers to the period when the yin energy is at its maximum, as the Northern Hemisphere tilts furthest away from the sun, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year.

In ancient times, people regarded the eve of Winter Solstice as the last day of the year, and celebrated it as the “Little New Year”. However, people stopped celebrating when Emperor Wu of Han decided to fix the new year on the first day of the first lunar month. Still, the saying “everyone becomes a year older right after Winter Solstice” remains. Originally, Dongzhi was also known as Farmers’ Festival, when people offered thanksgiving for good harvests.

What the Chinese believe


Some Chinese communities believe that the Winter Solstice is extremely auspicious. According to Chinese beliefs, yang (阳) represents masculine and positive energy, while yin (阴) embodies feminine and negative energy. During the Winter Solstice, yin is at its peak and will gradually be replaced by yang, referring to a longer day and shorter night. This also marks the beginning of a new solar term, and is considered a mini “New Year” among the Chinese. Some elderly even consider this particular day to be everyone’s birthday!

There’s a popular saying in northern China that if you don’t have dumplings on this day, your ears will freeze and fall off! A story goes that during one winter, long, long time ago, a doctor, Zhang Zhongjing, was troubled that many people were suffering from the extreme cold. He then boiled a pot of mutton with other medicinal ingredients, minced the meat up, wrapped them in dough, and shaped them to look like ears. Those who suffered from frostbitten ears were given this “cold-dispelling” soup. Subsequently, people made dumplings the same way and ate them during the festival to commemorate him. It became a tradition that was practised mostly in northern China.


In Singapore

We typically eat tangyuan during this festive period. How did this practice come about? It’s said that a pair of poor father and daughter arrived at a small town in Fujian. The daughter stayed on to work for a family. Before leaving, the father took out a tangyuan and asked the daughter to cut it into half, each consuming half of the rice ball. They made a pact to each eat a full tangyuan when they reunited. On the next Winter Solstice, the daughter made two big tangyuan and pasted them on the main door, hoping that her father would come for her. Finally, the father showed up and they reunited. After that, people in the area followed suit and pasted tangyuan on their main doors to symbolise reunion and good luck.

Info source:

  1. Kaki Says – Winter Solstice Festival
  2. Singapore Tourism Board – Winter Solstice Festival
  3. Leon C. (2009), Through the Bamboo Window: Chinese Life & Culture in 1950s Singapore & Malaya. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd and Singapore Heritage Society, pp. 47-48; 新加坡福建会馆. (2009) 阮这世人 – 新加坡福建人的习俗. 新加坡: 新加坡福建会馆, p. 107; 严敬群 (编著). (2009). 中国节日传统文化书本. 北京: 东方出版社, p. 280
  4. The Straits Times – 6 things you might not have known about the Winter Solstice
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