The Chinese Dong Zhi Festival
The Chinese Dong Zhi Festival

The Chinese Dong Zhi Festival

Dong Zhi, or the Winter Solstice Festival, was celebrated by the Chinese of ancient times. It was commemorated in much the same way Chinese Lunar New Year is now - with visits to friends and relatives. There is customary feasting and businesses will close up for the day. During this time, people will assemble to eat "tang yuan" (glutinous flour balls) symbolizing a united family and togetherness.

But what is the winter solstice, exactly?

A solstice is an astronomical expression that explains the time of year when the sun is spaced very far away from our equator. There is one solstice in the summer, corresponding to the longest day of the year, and another in the winter, corresponding to the shortest day of the year. The seasons may vary, however, considering the hemisphere you are talking about.

A solstice is created when the earth tilts away from the sun for a particular hemisphere. While the earth is orbiting around the sun, it is also spinning on its axis. This tilting results in one hemisphere being nearer to the sun, causing the summer while the adjacent hemisphere is further away, causing the winter.

The term solstice actually come form the Latin word solstitium. They derived the word solstitium from sol meaning the sun and stitium, which means to stop. During the solstice, the sun appears to do exactly that. It reaches almost the same elevation everyday at noon for the several days before and after the solstice.

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on either December 21st or 22nd each year when the sun appears directly above the tropic of Capricorn. For the southern hemisphere, the 20th or 21st of June is the winter solstice, which takes place when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Cancer.

The winter solstice is also known as the shortest day, because it marks the years shortest period of daylight and longest period of darkness. This is considered to be the midpoint of winter by many cultures calendars. It is actually quite surprising that, in three thousand years, the date of the solstice has only shifted by one day.

Many ancient cultures celebrated the winter solstice as a time of new birth because the sun seemed reborn as the days began to stay lighter longer. This was often seen as a positive change and a purge of evil from the world as the darkness (evil) was defeated by light (good.)

This was frequently thought of as a blessed transformation with the removal of evil from the earth since the darkness is considered evil, and this was overcome by the light which is considered to be good. Currently, celebrations of light are still observed by some cultures. As well as the Chinese Dong Zhi festival, the Germanic society observes Yule and the Hindus observe Diwali, a festival of light.

Henry Fong
Feng Shui Consultant
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