The energy (qi) stored in winter reaches its peak on Dong Zhi or the winter solstice (Zhi means to the greatest level or extent).
The energy (qi) of Yang begins to grow when Yin is at its greatest. Days are of the shortest duration, and shadows are of the longest length when the sun is at its most southern position. Thus it is ‘winter solstice’. Earthen sundials were used in China as early as 2500 years ago in the Spring and Autumn Period to observe the sun, and measure and determine the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the earliest formulated solar term of the 24 solar terms. It occurs every year between December 21st and 23rd on the solar calendar. This is the day on the northern hemisphere with the least amount of daytime and greatest amount of nighttime in the entire year.
Winter was separated into three periods in ancient China: “In the first period earthworms curl up. In the second period elk antlers fall off. In the third period spring water flows.” Legend has it that earthworms curl up when the energy of Yin increases. Though the energy (qi) of Yang is already growing after the winter solstice, the energy (qi) of Yin is still very powerful. The earthworms in the soil still curl up their bodies. Elk and deer are of the same family, but have different Yin and Yang attributes. The ancients believed that elk antlers grew backwards, therefore elk antlers were Yin. Elk feel the energy (qi) of Yin gradually dissipating when Yang grows after the winter solstice and then their antlers fall off. Spring waters in mountains begin to flow and turn warm due to the renewal of the energy (qi) of Yang.
here was a saying in ancient China, "The Winter Solstice is as significant as the Spring Festival."
As early as the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-256BC), people worshipped the gods on the first day of the Winter Solstice, which also was the first day of the new year.
The Winter Solstice became a winter festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD). The celebratory activities were officially organized. On this day, both officials and common people would have a rest.
During subsequent dynasties, such as the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), the Winter Solstice was a day to offer sacrifices to Heaven and to ancestors.
The winter solstice is designated as the beginning of winter in astronomy. There are clear differences in climate during the winter solstice in many regions of China. The northwestern plateaus have an average temperature below 0℃ during the winter solstice. Southern regions have temperatures of only around 6℃ to 8℃. The average temperatures of the southwestern low altitude river valley regions are still above 10℃ even during the coldest time of the year locally in mid-January. You could say that autumn is followed by spring, and there is no winter throughout the year.
Great importance was attached to going out on the day of winter solstice in ancient China. Winter solstice was a relatively large festival. There was once a saying that said “winter solstice is as grand as the Spring Festival”. There was also a custom of celebrating the winter solstice. People believed that: days grew longer and the energy (qi) of Yang increased again after the winter solstice. It was the beginning of another solar term cycle, and also an auspicious day that should be celebrated.
The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. The point where the sun directly shines gradually moves north after the winter solstice. The days in the northern hemisphere gradually lengthen and nights gradually shorten. There is an old saying that goes, “Days become longer each day after eating winter solstice noodles.” Following the winter solstice, many places in China go through the coldest period, which is called in Chinese, “Shu Jiu”, meaning counting nine. “Shu Jiu” consists of nine Nine-Day Periods. The day of the winter solstice is the first day of the “Shu Jiu”. There is a folk song handed down among the people about the “Shu Jiu” or Counting Nine: “It is too cold to take your hands out form your pockets during the first and second nine days. Walk on ice during the third and fourth nine days. Enjoy the willow trees along the river on the fifth and sixth nine days. Rivers flow during the seventh nine days. Swallows come back during the eighth nine days. Farm cattle work in the field everywhere during the ninth and tenth nine days.”
The winter solstice is also called dongjie , meaning winter festival.
People in the North Eat Dumplings
Whether rich or poor, dumplings are an indispensable holiday food on the day of winter solstice . There is a saying that goes: “All families eat dumplings when winter solstice arrives in the eleventh lunar month.” This custom has been preserved in order to commemorate the “medical sage” Zhang Zhongjing who donated medicine to the poor on the winter solstice.
Different places have different customs during the winter solstice. However, a majority of places have a custom of eating dumplings on the winter solstice. A distinctive seasonal dining culture has formed during the winter solstice over the course of thousands of years of development. Eating dumplings has become a winter solstice custom for the majority of Chinese people.
People in the South Eat Glutinous Rice Flour Balls
A Han Chinese folk proverb says: “Winter solstice is as grand as the Spring Festival” and “If you don’t return home on the winter solstice, you have no reverence to your ancestors”. What it means is that people away from home have to return home by all possible means to praise and worship their ancestors on the winter solstice. Otherwise, they do not have the concept of ancestor veneration in their minds. People in the Mainland and Taiwan both highly value the winter solstice, and regard it as a festival of reunion.
After eating winter solstice rice balls the people of the Chaoshan Area in Guangdong Province also adhere two winter solstice rice balls on the highly visible areas of their homes like doors, windows, tables, cabinets, stairs, and beds. They even adhere them to the bows of the boats of fisherman’s families, the horns of the farming cattle of peasant households, and the fruit trees grown by fruit farmers. The famous modern Taiwanese scholar Lin Zaifu in his book “The People of Minnan” described a winter festival day in Taiwan: “All families have to offer winter solstice rice balls to their ancestors in the morning....From the large gate, small gate, windows, granary doors, beds, cabinets, tables, wells, restrooms, to ox tails, and pig tails, all have one or two winter solstice rice balls on them. They are offered in order to request their ancestors to bless, protect, and ensure the safety of the members of the family.”
People in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, are accustomed to eating wontons in midwinter. According to legend, during the midwinter feast 2,500 years ago, the King of Wu was disgusted with all kinds of costly foods and wanted to eat something different. Then, the beauty Xishi came into the kitchen to make "wontons" to honor the king's wish. He ate a lot and liked the food very much. To commemorate Xishi, the people of Suzhou made wontons the official food to celebrate the festival.
When midwinter comes, vital movement begins to decline and calm down. In this period, eating an appropriate amount of nuts, such as peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, is good for one's body. Traditional Chinese medical science teaches that the quality of a nut is tepidity and most nuts have the function of nourishing the kidneys and strengthening the brain and heart.
Eating mutton and vermicelli soup
In Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, people call midwinter the "Ghost Festival". On that day, it is customary for people there to drink mutton and vermicelli soup and eat the dumplings in the soup. They give the midwinter soup a strange name: "brain" and share it with their neighbors.
Eating rice cakes
During the Winter Solstice, Hangzhou residents traditionally eat rice cakes. In the past, before the approach of the Winter Solstice, every household would make the cakes to worship their ancestors or use as gifts for relatives and friends.
Color in Plum Blossoms
Draw a plum blossom tree with nine plum blossoms. Draw nine flower petals on each plum blossom for a total of 81 petals to represent the 81 days of the “Cold Days of the Nine Periods”. Color in one petal every day. You will exit the “Nine Periods” when all of the plum blossoms are colored in.
A poet wrote: “Draw a branch of plain plum blossoms on the window after the winter solstice. When a beauty applies make up, she colors in one petal with rouge each day. It is complete after 81 petals. Warmth has returned when the plum blossoms transform into apricot blossoms.” A beautiful woman would use rouge to color in a picture of plum blossoms when applying makeup. The plum blossoms become apricot blossoms after 81 days. The excitement of the beginning of spring possesses quite an elegant charm.
Trace in Calligraphy
The nine traditional characters “亭前垂柳珍重待春風” is a poetic line meaning that the willow trees in front of the pavilion waiting for balmy spring breezes Each character has nine strokes for a total of 81 strokes in all the nine characters. Trace in each stroke every day starting on the winter solstice. Weeping willows are green, spring breezes are pleasantly cool, and spring has returned when the verse line is fully traced in.
Of course, the characters can be traced in with different colors according to weather conditions. Clear skies are red. Cloudy skies are black. Rain is blue. Wind is yellow. Falling snow is white. The colors are gorgeous when all characters are traced in, and indeed record the process of spring arriving after winter.
Winter solstice is the natural transformation of the two energies (qi) of Yin and Yang. It is the best time to stimulate the Shenque acupuncture reflex point using the moxibustion therapy to increase the energy (qi) of Yang in the body. The moxibustion acupuncture therapy is adopted to preserve health during the total of nine days on the respective four days before and after winter solstice in addition to the day of the winter solstice. Light the moxa stick, and with the belly button as the center, heat the area surrounding the belly button. Make sure not to burn the skin. A warm sensation is enough. Do this once a day for 15-20 minutes each session.
According to the acupuncture theory, Shenque acupuncture point is the basis of the internal organs of the body, the places where the Ren channels and Chong channels circulate, the root of the Primoridal energy (yuanqi), and the crucial acupuncture reflex point for connecting the congenital and acquired qi of the human body. The moxibustion of Shenque acupuncture point can tonify vital energy (qi), recuperate Yang, warm the kidneys, strengthen the spleen, relieve rheumatic pains, get rid of internal dampness, warm Yang and the meridians, and regulate energy (qi) and blood. It is said to be fairly beneficial for the body, and even able to lessen the number of times people fall ill in the following year.
Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the cold energy (qi) in the body enter the body through the feet from the ground. Hence, soaking one’s feet in hot water can effectively help women to stay warm. However, be sure to be consistent from beginning to end in soaking one’s feet in hot water. You cannot work by fits and starts. Only by remaining consistent for a long period of time can this technique produce a health maintaining, cold resisting, and warmth retaining effect.
Thinking of Home on Winter Solstice Night at Handan
At roadside inn I pass the Winter Solstice Day,
Clasping my knees, my shadow is my company,
I think, till dead of night my family would stay,
And talk about the poor lonely wayfaring me.
Heaven and earth press for a change from day to day;
On winter solstice spring will come without delay.
The embroiderer adds in an hour one more thread;
When six reed pipes are blown, up and down ashes spread.
The rivershores wait to be greened by willow trees;
The coldproof mountain sets mume blossoms at release.
The scenery here looks fine as in our homeland;
I tell my son to drink up the cup in his hand.