Celebrating Winter Solstice on 22nd December 2022
Rituals for a “good harvest” and an auspicious year ahead
“Dong Zhi” or Winter Solstice falls on December 22nd this year in 2022. This is the shortest day of the year, and the turning point when we start to emerge out of the depths of winter, celebrating the return to longer daylight hours. It is traditionally a time when Chinese families gather, just like Westerners do on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, to celebrate the harvests of the year.
There’s a famous couplet which begins with “Dong Zhi Da Guo Nian”, which means that “Winter Solstice Day is a day to be celebrated and should be considered grander than the Lunar New Year”. The latter part of the couplet, “Ren Jian Xiao Tuan Yuan” depicts a common theme where Chinese households get together to enjoy a feast and offer prayers to the Gods.
Several important rituals are observed to ensure a safe and smooth-sailing year ahead, with good harvests, abundance and auspiciousness.
EATING COLOURFUL TANG YUAN
The most important of the rituals is the making and eating of “Tang Yuan”. These are glutinous rice balls cooked in a warm ginger-infused soup. Traditional families start their sessions of making Tang Yuan from scratch by sitting together and rolling different coloured glutinous rice dough into balls, sometimes filling them with peanut, black sesame or red bean paste.
Behind the act of eating this sweet dessert is a wealth of cultural significance and meaning. The roundness of the balls represents prosperity, togetherness and unity of the family, while the different colours of Tang Yuan are believed to each bring a different kind of good fortune wish.
- White glutinous rice balls symbolise harmonious relationships.
- Red glutinous rice balls symbolise joy.
- Pink balls symbolise love.
- Yellow balls symbolise wealth.
- Green balls symbolise good health.
- Blue balls symbolise a flourishing career.
- And purple balls symbolise wisdom.
Because of their auspicious meaning, Tang Yuan has become an iconic dessert during other Chinese festivals as well. Here is a traditional recipe for making your own:
Glutinous Rice Balls:
- 250 grams glutinous rice flour
- 1/2 cup HOT boiling water
- 1/2 cup COLD water, depends on dough consistency
- Food colouring – red, green, blue and yellow
- 150 grams old ginger, peeled and lightly bruised
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup brown or white sugar
- 2 screw pine leaves, knotted (optional)
First, peel the skin off the old ginger. Cut the ginger into pieces and lightly bruise them. Rinse screw pine leaves and tie into a knot.
In a pot, place the water, sugar, ginger and screw pine leaves, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 15 mins, then leave aside for another 15 mins to allow the ginger and screw pine flavours to properly infuse. Remove and set aside the screw pine and ginger pieces.
Preparing the Rice Balls:
In a big bowl, mix the HOT boiling water to the rice flour and mix well. Gradually add in cold water to make a smooth dough.
Divide dough into equal portions depending on how many colours you intend to make.
Add red food colouring into one of the portions. Wearing plastic gloves, knead the dough until the colour is well distributed. Continue to do the same for the other dough portions using different colours. Leave one part of dough without colour for white tang yuan.
Form each dough into long strips and using the palms of your hands, roll them into balls. Place shaped rice balls onto a lightly floured plate to prevent sticking. Cover with a cloth to prevent drying prior to cooking.
Cooking the Rice Balls:
To cook the rice balls, first bring a pot of water to a boil. Make sure there is enough water to submerge the rice balls completely.
Then, add in the glutinous rice balls and cook for about 3 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice balls from sticking. When the balls start to float to the surface, add 1 cup of cold water into the pot, cover and continue to cook for another 1 – 2 mins or until the rice balls float to the surface again.
Remove and place into a large bowl of cold water for about one minute. This will prevent the glutinous rice balls from sticking to one another and make them chewier.
Drain and transfer into the ginger syrup that was prepared earlier. Can be served hot or cold.
Note: If your family does not have a tradition of making this dessert from scratch, you don’t have to skip this auspicious ritual. You can easily purchase this dish from local Chinese restaurants or dessert shops. Get them in all the colours to symbolise the myriad of meanings!
MAKING RICE WINE AND DRIED MEATS IN PREPARATION FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR
Many traditional families use this time to make their dried meats, sausages as well as rice wine so that they are ready for use during Chinese New Year, which falls on January 22nd in 2023.
OFFERING PRAYERS TO THE GODS
Winter Solstice is an auspicious day to worship household deities and the God of Heaven. Tang Yuan is often offered at prayer altars to give thanks for divine protection, and to ask for blessings for the coming year.
This day is when the Tai Sui of 2023, General Pi Shi takes on the mantle for the upcoming Year of the Rabbit. It is therefore extremely important that all homes have their Annual Tai Sui and 3 Killings remedies updated and put in place before the end of the day to ensure a smooth transition into the New Year.
According to the solar calendar, this day officially starts at 5.45 am on the Day of the Rooster. For those of you born in the year of the Rabbit, Rooster, Rat and Horse – remember to start carrying the 2023 Tai Sui Amulet from this day onwards.
Dragon, Rabbit, Tiger, Monkey, Rooster & Dog–born individuals must have the 3 Celestials Amulet.
Many Chinese households conduct rituals for ancestral worship on this day by setting up incense burners and placing food such as dumplings, steamed chicken or cooked pork on a table as a symbolic offering to their ancestors. Incense is burnt and prayers led by the head of the household asking for spiritual deliverance and for the ancestors to keep a watchful eye on the young descendants of the family.
AVOID ARGUING ON THIS DAY!
Just like during Chinese New Year, family unity is viewed with utmost importance on Winter Solstice, thus family members should always greet each other with courteous, auspicious greetings and avoid quarrelling with each other on this day. To ensure good emotions through the day, wear the Sky Dog Charm and avoid discussing overly contentious or sensitive issues at the dinner table!