Header issue 09  
 
The Winter Solstice
     
 


Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year have been going on since Neolithic times in all cultures throughout the world initially using the solar calendar for dates. Most of these have similar activities such as food, dancing, communion with close friends and family and so on - In ancient Greece for example the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades (the Greek God of the Underworld) was permitted on Mount Olympus. It is no mistake that Christmas day is celebrated when it is - within a week or so of the Winter solstice as it was used as a convenience by the Christians of Byzantine 1,000 years ago; it was more convenient to conclude that Jesus was born on a day that was celebrated by humans everywhere for thousands and thousands of years rather than invent a new one…

The Winter Solstice

In China, the Winter Solstice is called the Dongzhi Festival, meaning “the extreme of winter” and is one of the most important festivals for the Chinese community throughout the world, second only to Chinese New Year and celebrated on or around 22nd December. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the Yin and Yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in; the solar year is getting lighter and lighter after the darkness - the worst is over and each delay will now bring more light and warmth. This is largely in line with other cultures though China has maintained a tight grasp on its historical heritage and much remains unchanged about the origins of many of these celebrations here.

 
  Food, Glorious food…

Like elsewhere in the world, the Dongzhi Festival is a time for the family to get together; and to eat. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinuous rice flour and sometimes brightly coloured. Each family member receives at least one large Tang Yuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl. It is also often served with a mildly alcoholic unfiltered rice wine containing whole grains of glutinous rice called jiuniang which is quite simply one of the best things to eat. Ever.

 
 

  In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dongzhi. It is said to have originated from one of the great contributors to Chinese medicine Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting cold. Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish "qǜ hán jiāo ěr tāng" or “dumpling soup that expels the cold”. The idea that an object that has characteristics of a problem a person has is widespread in traditional chinese medicine - dumplings look like ears..therefore, eating hot dumplings will heat up your ears, if you have backache, eat dried sea horse soup: they have a curvy spine and are quite comfortable, therefore..… and so on, this remains a major impediment to the development and adoption of modern medicine to this day in China as the historical cultural influence is so strong and “sticky”. Some may think it silly that such ideas should continue to
remain central in the modern age as these ideas are from the Iron Age. However it should be understood that they remain strong as a consequence of the the power of Chinese culture as a cultural force; its sense of identity is strong for such a large population - witness how these events are celebrated in highly developed countries like Hong Kong and Singapore - many would say with more vigor than mainland China - and you will see that its unlikely that the celebrations and cultural identity will fade with the adoption of other western and "international" attitudes.
 
 
  One of the primary reasons for this newsletter is to enable our customers and partners to have a greater insight into Chinese culture - those who do not take the time to understand a little about key events that give insights to the culture do so at their peril! Cultural knowledge is vital for success!

We wish all our customers and partners a happy Dongzhi festival and Christmas - and no cold ears!
 
     
  Best Regards

The Team at Netelis Asia
 
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