Winter Solstice Celebration

By Evan Yeh

Portrait of Zhang Ji, famous Chinese Physician.

The Winter Solstice is the name given to the shortest day and consequently the longest night of the year. This astrological event is occasion for a significant celebration in Asia called 冬至 (dōngzhì). During this festival people will end work early so they can return home for lavish family meals. Each region of China will have traditional components of this meal based on specific geography. In the north, where winters are colder, you will see people eat dumplings or 餃子 (jiaozi). This tradition is traced back to 张机 (Zhang Ji) who was a writer, inventor and one of the preeminent physicians of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The story goes that Zhang Ji noticed the people suffering from frost bitten ears as the weather turned cold for winter. To combat this, he instructed that his apprentices make dumplings out of lamb and other ingredients and to serve them in a soup. The dumplings were effective and this work along with many other writings and innovation helped establish Zhang Ji as one of the founding fathers of Traditional Chinese Medicine. His thoughts regarding the importance of combating the effects of cold on the body are still considered to be the most relevant in that branch of Chinese Medicine. To this day, dumplings are still consumed as part of the Winter Solstice celebration especially in Northern China.

In Southern China, it is traditional to eat glutinous rice balls or 湯圓 (tāngyuán). These are often filled with a black sesame paste or other sweet fillings and served in a bowl of sugary liquid often flavored with ginger. Due to a clever coincidence in the Chinese language the name of this dish 湯圓 (tāngyuán) when spoken has a very similar sound as 團圓 (tuányuán) which literally means reunion or unity. For this reason, these round balls, served in round bowls for a family-oriented feast with a name that literally sounds like the word “reunion” possess great symbolic meaning for the season.

Here in the West, Winter is also a time of family togetherness, of rest, of renewal. Although family obligations can make the season seem hectic it is important that we take time to connect with the true appreciation of the Season’s gifts of family and festivity and to express the inspiration in our art. Warm your heart and home this season with the flames of your artistic expression. No matter the weather outside, you can warm the house with your creative energy when you take the time to put brush and ink to paper.

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