Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Dongzhi 冬至 (Winter Solstice Festival) 2016

Dongzhi Winter Solstice Festival 2016
Tangyuan (湯圓)

In the West, the general population usually equates the yin yang with balance, harmony and unfortunate ankle tattoos. However, his curvy black and white symbol has the honor of being a prominent figure in the Chinese Dongzhi Winter Solstice Festival.

What’s the yin yang/solstice connection? Well, balance and harmony are indeed a big part of it, but according to the Chinese the yin yang also represents the flow of energy, warmth and light. Each year when winter solstice rolls around (generally December 21 or 22, the shortest day of the year) the warm, positive energy -which had apparently turned cold, dark and lazy throughout the fall – revs back up again and sets its sights on spring. Put simply, winter solstice opens up the floodgates of happiness, joy, optimism and all those other fuzzy feelings.

How the locals do Dongzhi - Back in the day, the Dongzhi winter solstice festival literally brought the country to a halt. Soldiers were brought in from their posts, farmers and fishermen kicked up their boots and everyone indulged in some much needed post-harvest R&R. Emperors staged elaborate ancestral-honoring ceremonies, while the common folk simply used the break for spending time with family and friends, honoring the dearly departed and eating their weight in special Dong Zhi dishes.

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The Dongzhì Festival /Tang Chek Festival or Winter Solstice Festival 冬至
Tangyuan 湯圓

This festival originated from China, as early as 770-476 BC.  Ancient Chinese astronomers divided the whole year into 24 solar terms according to climate changes. The Chinese also found that the Winter Solstice was the shortest daytime and longest night time in the whole year.  After winter solstice, daytime will grow increasingly longer as the sun slowly moves back to the northern hemisphere.  Hence, Winter Solstice is a solar term in Chinese lunar calendar and often falls on December 22 or 23 (solar calendar) every year.

The festival that fall on this date is known as Dongzhi Festival or Tang Chek (in Hokkien) .  During the Tang and Song Dynasties, ancestor worship was performed on the Winter Solstice. Today this tradition of celebrating Winter Solstice is a cultural practice for many Chinese worldwide and it is considered as an auspicious celebration.

In Malaysia and Singapore, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated as family get together event.  It is the time where families gather to make and eat tangyuan (湯圓) or balls of glutinuous rice balls, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinuous rice which is grounded to a flour and then coloured.  The flour balls may be plain or stuffed (with a sweet bean paste or ground nuts). They are cooked in a sweet light syrup or savoury broth. Some Chinese Taoist and Buddhist will make tangyuan offering to their ancestors on this day. Many Chinese also consider this a cultural event, a time for a family gathering.

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