The History and Traditions of the Winter Solstice

By CAPA-JRC reporters Sophie Huang and Emily Jia


Credits to: Kaysha


The Winter Solstice Holiday is an important holiday that is celebrated by many countries, such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, but it originated in China. It marks the start of the colder days of winter and usually falls around the 22nd of December. The winter solstice is one of the 24 solar terms. The festival symbolizes coming together with family and celebrating the brighter days in the year to come.


In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the longest night and shortest day. After it passes, the days gradually get longer; therefore, the holiday celebrates the return of longer days and, with that, positive energy in the year to come. This holiday has been celebrated since the Spring and Autumn period. In China, it became more important in the Han Dynasty, while later Tang and Song emperors made it an official day to worship and sacrifice to their god and ancestors.

Credits to: Stijn Dijkstra

Historically in northern China, where it could get bitterly cold, hot foods were eaten to try and stay warm when there was insufficient heating. The Chinese believed that there wasn’t enough Yang energy and therefore ate what they classified as Yang foods. These include dumplings and tangyuan.


Credits to: Tom Fisk

Another old tradition in China, which is less applicable now, is to have your entire family, including extended relatives, gather at the family’s ancestral temple to worship on the day of the winter solstice. After the ceremony, there would be a grand reunion dinner among the relatives. Nowadays, there tend to be smaller family gatherings instead of ones involving the entire family coming together.


Many families celebrate in different ways. One student from Takoma Park said, “My family likes to eat hotpot, because it’s a tradition to eat hot foods on cold days.” Another student from Takoma Park said, “We love to eat tangyuan. A couple of my friends love it too. My favorite is the black sesame one.” Most of the people talked to ate dumplings though, one of them saying, “I think dumplings are the more commonly eaten food [during the winter solstice], and my family usually just makes a bunch of dumplings together.”


While different celebration methods are used nowadays, the Winter Solstice is still a day to come together with family and to celebrate days to come in the next year.




This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.

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