3 Things I Find Fascinating About the Winter Solstice in China

For many families in China, Friday December 22 (which is coming up later this week) is not merely the shortest day of the year. It’s also a time to gather together in celebration of the winter solstice.

Until I married into a Chinese family, I didn’t realize the winter solstice was actually a holiday here. But I’ve been fortunate to experience it with my husband’s family, and here are 3 things I’ve learned about the holiday:

#1: The winter solstice heralds the start of China’s holiday season

Just as Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas season in America, the winter solstice is how many Chinese people mark the start of their holidays. And it makes sense. After all, if Chinese New Year is about the coming of the spring, which means more daylight, then there’s no better time to begin the buildup then after passing the shortest day of the year.

#2: The winter solstice in China is all about family reunion

One of the most important things about winter solstice is being together with family. Those who can will return to their family homes to spend the day with loved ones. At the same time, it’s also a day to remember the family that came before you — your ancestors. In my husband’s family, there’s always a prayer to the ancestors.

#3: The winter solstice in China centers around delicious food

Chinese people love to eat, and the holidays are no exception. The highlight of the winter solstice is sitting down for an evening feast with the family, a dinner that nearly rivals what you might have on Chinese New Year’s Eve. For my husband’s family, the table is always set with round foods symbolizing togetherness, including my mother-in-law’s homemade sesame balls (which are easier to make than you might imagine). You can find a recipe here.

Whatever you do for the winter solstice coming up this Friday, here’s wishing you a wonderul time on the shortest day of the year!

Do you celebrate the winter solstice? What are your traditions?

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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  1. I’m an atheist, but I love all the old pagan traditions around Christmas — most of which began with the Winter Solstice. So you won’t find a nativity at my house — jeez, God, did you never hear of consent either? — but you will find mistletoe, holly, and lots of evergreens with lights.

    I did host a Winter Solstice bonfire a few years ago. With s’mores.

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