There’s a major Chinese holiday almost as important as Chinese New Year coming up—do you know about it or celebrate it?
It’s Chinese Winter Solstice, which marks the pinnacle of the winter season.
There are many traditions around Chinese Winter Solstice, and many excellent opportunities for language learning!
Learn important cultural and linguistic points surrounding this holiday. For example, what foods are eaten at Chinese Winter Solstice? What is the meaning and significance of this holiday according to Chinese philosophy?
We’ll cover new vocabulary and interesting cultural tidbits in this fun post.
What’s Chinese Winter Solstice?
Winter Solstice, or 冬至 (dōng zhì), marks the shortest day of the year, that is, the day with the least daylight for the Northern Hemisphere.
The Chinese commemorate this day during the 11th lunar month, which in Western calendars falls between Dec 21 and 23.
Following this day, daylight hours begin to lengthen. Hence, Winter Solstice is a turning point during the long, cold winter season.
Traditionally, Winter Solstice is considered a very important day in Chinese culture, second only to Chinese New Year, or 农历新年 (nóng lì xīn nián), also called 春节 (chūn jié) Spring Festival.
Yin, Yang and the Significance of Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice carries much significance within Chinese philosophy. In Chinese beliefs, yin and yang 阴阳 (yīn yáng) are the balancing forces of life and the universe.
The yin 阴 (yīn) force of darkness and cold is most intense during Winter Solstice, the darkest and shortest day of the year. But following this day, the force of yang 阳 (yáng), representing light, begins to grow.
In this way, Winter Solstice is a day for hope and optimism.
How to Celebrate Winter Solstice
During Winter Solstice, people generally gather together for a big meal. Some people may get off work early to go home and be with family.
In northern China, people eat 饺子 (jiǎo zi), meat-filled dumplings.
In southern China, people eat 汤圆 (tāng yuán), sweet glutinous rice balls in soup.
Beyond these food traditions, there are many more facts to know about Winter Solstice. Let’s take the challenge of learning them in Chinese.
Celebrate Chinese Winter Solstice: Learn 14 Chinese Sentences About Food, Family and Festivities
Here are 14 different ways to talk about winter solstice in Chinese. Learn these simple Chinese phrases, and know more about Chinese history and culture at the same time!
1. 冬至是中国传统中一个重要的节日 。
(dōng zhì shì zhōng guó chuán tǒng zhōng yī gè zhòng yào de jié rì.)
Winter Solstice is a very important holiday in Chinese culture.
Although many Westerners know about Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, Winter Solstice is another major event for many Chinese families and a special time for family gatherings.
2. 冬至也俗称 “冬节” 、“长至节”、或 “亚岁”。
(dōng zhì yě sú chēng “dōng jié” 、“cháng zhì jié”、huò “yà suì”.)
Winter Solstice is also called “winter festival,” “long solstice” and “Asian birthday.”
One very interesting fact about Winter Solstice is that many Chinese consider this day a universal birthday.
The passing of Winter Solstice marks the start of a new solar term circulation. After passing this day, everyone is counted as growing one year older. Therefore, Winter Solstice is called “亚岁” (yà suì) or “Asian birthday.”
(zài gǔ dài de chūn qiū shí dài，zhōng guó rén cè dìng chū le dōng zhì.)
In the ancient Spring and Fall eras (770-476 BC), the Chinese discovered a way to calculate each year’s winter solstice.
The Chinese have known how to calculate solstices since around 700 BC, or during the Spring and Autumn Period in Chinese history. During this era, the Chinese used an ancient sundial called 土圭 (tǔ guī) to observe the astronomical changes in the seasons.
(zài dōng zhì zhè yī tiān běi bàn qiú dé dào de yáng guāng shì quán nián zuì shǎo de.)
Winter Solstice is the day in which the Northern Hemisphere receives the least amount of daylight.
The Chinese are not the only culture that observes the Winter Solstice. In northern Europe, Winter Solstice, or “Midwinter,” is celebrated as a holiday called Yule.
(zhōng guó běi fāng rén yǒu dōng zhì chī jiǎo zi de fēng sú.)
Northern Chinese traditionally eat dumplings during Winter Solstice.
As Winter Solstice is a time for family gatherings and group meals, food is a very important part of this celebration. Many warming, filling foods are eaten during this time, including meat, soups and, of course, dumplings.
(nán fāng rén xǐ huān zài dōng zhì de shí hòu chī tāng yuán.)
Southern Chinese like to eat glutinous rice balls during Winter Solstice.
There’s a special reason why this dish is eaten at Winter Solstice. The name 汤圆 (tāng yuán), for glutinous rice balls, sounds like “getting together,” which is 团圆 (tuán yuán).
(zài zhōng guó qí tā dì fāng yě yǒu zài dōng zhì dāng tiān hē yáng ròu tāng de fēng sú.)
In other regions of China, people have the custom of drinking mutton soup during the Winter Solstice too.
Different parts of China have slightly different traditions. In some parts of China, people drink mutton soup during Winter Solstice. Mutton soup is believed to promote vitality and keep the body warm.
(chú le chī hē yĭ wài, rén mén huì zài dōng zhì jì niàn zǔ xiān.)
In addition to feasting, people also remember their ancestors during Winter Solstice.
In ancient Chinese culture, Winter Solstice is a time to commemorate ancestors and to worship the heavens. On this day during the Tang and Song dynasties, the emperor would conduct a heavenly worship ceremony while the commoners remembered their deceased family members.
(wéi le qìng zhù jié rì, rén mén yě huì huàn xīn yī fú.)
To celebrate, some Chinese like to wear new clothes during Winter Solstice.
Winter Solstice is an auspicious day, so some consider it appropriate to wear new clothes.
(dōng zhì dài biǎo yáng qì shēng fā, wàn wù shǒu cáng shēng qì.)
Winter Solstice represents the revival of yang energy. It’s a time when all living things are revived.
This belief is part of the reason why Winter Solstice is such a significant holiday.
Sayings Around Chinese Winter Solstice
(jiù shí rén mén huì shuō “dōng zhì dà rú nián”.)
In olden times, people used to say, “Winter Solstice is as important as Chinese New Year.”
Although Winter Solstice was extremely important in the past, with ceremonies for worshiping the heavens and remembering ancestors, nowadays it is mainly a special day to gather with family.
(zài lì shǐ zhōng de《hòu hàn shū》yǒu jì lù: “dōng zhì qián hòu，jūn zǐ ān shēn jìng tǐ.”)
In “Book of the Later Han” it is recorded: “Before and after Winter Solstice, a ruler should rest and restore his body.”
Traditionally, Winter Solstice is a time for rest and renewal.
13. 在老北京有 “冬至馄饨夏至面” 的说法。
(zài lǎo běi jīng yǒu “dōng zhì hún tún xià zhì miàn” de shuō fǎ.)
In Old Beijing, there’s a saying, “Eat wonton dumplings for Winter Solstice and eat noodles in the summer.”
Foods—along with their benefits and associations—play an important role in Chinese culture and many Chinese festivals.
14. 吃 “捏冻耳朵” 是冬至吃饺子的俗称。
(chī “niē dòng ěr duǒ” shì dōng zhì chī jiǎo zi de sú chēng.)
To “pinch cold ears” is another saying for eating dumplings during Winter Solstice.
According to legend, dumplings were invented by a compassionate doctor who, after witnessing the suffering of villagers in the cold, ordered his servants to make dumplings stuffed with meat to distribute to the poor.
And those were 14 quick and easy Chinese phrases about Chinese Winter Solstice that also include many historical and cultural highlights.
We hope you have a great holiday!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.