Mid-Winter Festival / Winter Solstice
The Chinese Mid-Winter Festival is officially known as Dongzhi Festival. It falls directly on or around December 22 of each year. The holiday is strongly associated with Yin (female) forces diminishing and Yang (masculine) forces growing stronger in the cosmos. It is actually on the day that the sun shines weakly and daylight is shortened. This is a very important holiday for the country, and is still celebrated in parts of China today.
It is a tradition that families come together on this day to celebrate the Mid-Winter Festival together. The inhabitants of the south generally make and enjoy Tangyuan, which is a glutinous rice ball that represents unity. The northern Chinese make dumplings on this day. It is
believed that the tradition of eating dumplings during Winter Solstice originated with Zhang Zhongjing from the Han Dynasty. He felt sorry for the poor people who were cold and had frostbite on their ears, so he ordered his chef to make dumplings and pass them out to the people to help them stay warm. Zhang named the dumplings "qu han jiao er tang," meaning soup that takes away the cold.
Families in China use Winter Solstice to gather and store their harvest. It marks the end of the farming activities for the year, and is a time when families can relax and enjoy their accomplishments. In years past families would celebrate Winter Solstice with music and dancing, while worshipping the gods who gave them a bountiful harvest. They also pray that they will have another good year of farming.
The Mid-Winter Festival is also used to worship ancestors in the afterlife, as well heaven. Families in China deeply believe in taking care of their ancestors who have passed this life, so that they will take care of them and bring them good fortune.
It is common for families to reward their livestock for the hard work they have done throughout the year, as well as utensils that were used daily to help bring in the harvest. The families will reward livestock by fixing up their ranges and tending to repairs in the living quarters. Utensils are given a good cleaning, and making any necessary repairs that are needed for the coming year. While not all of the traditions of the Mid-Winter Festival are still practiced in all parts of China today, many people do still celebrate to some extent. It is one of the most important holidays in the China culture.