Chinese Eating Traditions on Winter Solstice

Literally indicating “the arrival of winter” according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese Winter Solstice (冬至) occurs between December 21st and December 23rd on the solar calendar. As a typical Chinese proverb goes, “ten days after the winter solstice arrives the Gregorian New Year’s Day”.

Families eat pink and white tangyuan (balls of glutinous rice), symbolizing family unity and prosperity. (Source: Flickr)

Families eat pink and white tangyuan (balls of glutinous rice), symbolizing family unity and prosperity. (Source: Flickr)

The Northern Hemisphere enjoys the shortest day and the longest night in the year on Winter Solstice, as the sun shines directly at the Tropic of Capricorn. After the Winter Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere will witness a gradually stretching day time. At the same time, the Winter Solstice also marks the arrival of the coldest season in the year.
According to the traditional Chinese theory of Yin-Yang and five elements, the Winter Solstice is a critical term indicating the transformation between Yin and Yang. With the metabolism slowing down, Winter Solstice is traditionally regarded as a season for vigor recuperation and hence a golden opportunity for health promotion. Consequently, traditional Chinese medical scientists would suggest people to follow the rules of traditional Chinese health care philosophy and take good care of themselves.

Winter solstice plays a critical role in shaping the Chinese way of living, and various kinds of winter solstice eating traditions are still enjoy tremendous popularity in China. The winter solstice marks the maximization of Yin Qi, therefore, Yang Qi begins to generate in human body on winter solstice. Besides eating more warm and heated food in order to protect the body against the cold weather, people should pay more attention to the healthy eating around the winter solstice because it is the best time for the human body to uptake nutrition and nourish itself.

On the winter solstices day, people are more inclined to suffer from the excessive internal heat because of the large temperature difference in and out of the house. A typical result of internal heat is dental ulcer. People usually prefer hot food during cold weather, and the internal heat will be further fostered as a result. Therefore, Chinese medical specialists would suggest people to have more soups and porridges, which are all effective to reduce internal heat, and to nourish the body fluid.

It is also worth mentioning that black foods, such as black sesame, black beans and black rice, are recommended by Chinese medical doctors as perfect choices for winter solstice day. Black foods play critical roles in nourishing and sustaining a healthy kidney which functions the weakest during winter solstice day.

As people tend to feel depressed and unhappy during winter time, Chinese medicine practitioners would encourage people to participate more activity in recreational activities, and to stay together with family and friends. Therefore, the winter solstice is also a traditional festival for the family reunion in China.

In southern China, eating glutinous and sometimes colored rice balls (汤圆) with sweet soup on winter solstice day is an important activity for family get-togethers. The round shape of rice balls indicates reunion, while the sweet soup and the colors imply people’s best wishes for the future.

In northern China, Winter solstice custom has spread to eating dumplings. (Source: Li Tiecheng -

In northern China, Winter solstice custom has spread to eating dumplings. (Source: Li Tiecheng -

In northern China, people usually get together with their family and eat dumplings on winter solstice day. It is said that this tradition has been passed down from the Han Dynasty, when lots of home-less people were suffering from chilblains (painful abnormal reaction of the small blood vessels in the skin when exposed to cold temperatures ) in the ear during the cold winter. Zhang Zhongjing (张仲景), the “medical sage” in ancient China, invented an ear-shaped food with lamb, pepper and other ingredients which enjoyed the anti-coldness function. The dumplings helped people to warm up, and consequently played important supplementary role in curing the ear chilblains. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the winter solstice day and people in northern China believe that this tradition can protect them from suffering from ear chilblains.


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2 comments to Chinese Eating Traditions on Winter Solstice

  • pervertt

    Water, water everywhere in this article. Winter – the season when the water element predominates. Black foods – black is the colour of the water element. Kidneys – again, a water organ. Even the ear is correlated to the kidneys. Chinese medical practitioners can tell the condition of the kidneys by examining a person’s ears. The excess of water energy in winter plays havoc with the health of those who have too much of this element in their constitution.

  • snowball

    Wow pervertt, you know something about traditional chinese medicine, yin yang and the five elements…

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