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Winter Solstice

As the sun creeps further to the south,daytime in the northern hemisphere gets shorter and shorter, the weather colder and colder. Finally, the longest night of the year comes. It is the Winter Slostice , after which the sun begins its slow return to the North. The Chinese call this day Dongzhi. It usually falls on December22 or 23.
Why do the Chinese celebrate the shortest day of the year? Well, the custom comes from the theory of Yin and Yang. Yin symbolizes the feminine,negative and dark qualities of the universe, while yang stands for the opposite the masculine, positive and fiery qualities. On the day of Dongzhi, when sunshine is weakest and daytime shortest,the Yin qualities of darkness, of cold, are at their most powerful. From this point on, they begin to weaken, giving way to the light and warmth of Yang. It is a time for optimism,for joyful celebration.

The Winter Solstice became a festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and thrived in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279). The Han people regarded Winter Solstice as a "Winter Festival". On this day, both officials and common people would have a rest. Regiments of soldiers and cavalry, smart in full dress uniform, were stationed in, frontier fortresses closed and business and traveling stopped. Colorful flags flapped stiffly in the north wind. The sound of pipes and drums echoed through the brightly decorated streets. The ordinary people also celebrated in style. The longest night of the year was a time to put on one's best brand new clothes, to visit friends with gifts, to laugh and drink deep into the long night. 

In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Winter Solstice was a day to offer scarifies to Heaven and ancestors. In order to show their loyalty and respect, emperors would go to suburbs to worship the Heaven; while common people offered sacrifices to their deceased parents or other relatives, usually grains, to their ancestors after harvest. Sacrificial ceremonies may be held at home or in front of tombs. Such a custom is widely accepted both in the north and in the south.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) even had the record that "Winter Solstice is as formal as the Spring Festival," showing the great importance attached to this day.

Food that people eat during the Winter Solstice vary from place to place. In Nothern China, many people eat mutton and dog meat. These are hot Yang foods, bringing warmth to the body and dispelling the cold of Yin. Noodles and dumpling are popular in many areas. But in parts of South China, the whole family will get together to have a meal made of red-bean and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and other evil things. In other places, people also eat tangyuan, a kind of stuffed small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour. 

In the old days, dumplings were often eaten in menory of Doctor Zhang Zhongjing. Doctor Zhang was not only a brilliant doctor, able to cure all sorts of diseases, be was also very kind to the poor.
One year the winter was so cold that many people in Zhang Zhongjing's home town of Nanyang,in today's Henan Province,suffered from very painful chilblain. Seeing that his small clinic was no longer able to accommodate the ever increasing number of patients,Zhang asked his brother to put up a tent in the village square. A large cauldron was placed inside the tent to prepare a decoction of red pepper mixed with other medicinal herbs. Doctor Zhang had dumplings stuffed with mutton boiled in this medicinal soup. Every patient got a bowl of the spicy decoction with two dumplings. He had only just invented this mixture, but it worked like a dream:chilblains disappeared in a day or two. Doctor Zhang's mixture soon became a popular recipe throughout the land. When Zhang Zhongjing died, people began to eat dumplings on the day of the Winter Solstice in memory of the kind doctor , and also, perhaps, to prevent or cure chilblains.

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