The first time I celebrated the Winter Solstice festival (also called D?ngzhì Festival) was after I got married. Back then, I knew nothing about this festival and mistakenly called it the Spring Harvest Festival – but you can still see what practices are followed by clicking the link.
The boys are usually present for such festivals, but the extent of their participation is usually only to hold the joss sticks. Although, in light of an article I just stumbled upon on the carcinogenic potential of inhaling the smoke from burning incense, we might have to rethink this one. Just in case you missed it, it’s a study conducted by Dr Manoon Leechawengwong who found:
Burning joss sticks lit as an offering in shrines and temples fill the air with cancer-causing toxins that are every bit as deadly as traffic fumes and cigarette smoke.
[His] two-year study of temple workers tasked with clearing the smouldering sticks, found the cocktail of chemicals in the smoke put them at risk of leukaemia, lung, blood and bladder cancers.
Hmmm… not good.
I digress, much of the time, the boys get to watch TV while the adults perform the rituals which are generally:
- serving of food to “deities”, ancestors and “spirits”
- burning of joss paper offerings
The significant difference with the Winter Solstice Festival is that we also prepare tang yuan – coloured glutinous rice balls in sweet water (you can see how it’s made here – it is amazing how round and even it looks because mine were all kinds of round and different sizes much to my MIL’s dismay).
The tradition is that all family members are supposed to eat a bowl of it to keep away the cold from winter and/or bad spirits (I think it depends on whether you live in a country with a cold climate, near the equator where it’s warm, or in the other hemisphere where the seasons are in reverse). This is the first year we managed to get the boys to try some. Aristotle managed to down one ball before declining the rest. Hercules turned his nose up before the spoon could even reach his mouth. Ah well, I guess it’s a textural thing.
The Winter Solstice Festival probably isn’t quite as interesting as Chinese New Year, Christmas or even the Mid-Autumn Festival because there are no associated legends or stories about it. However, it is supposed to be quite important in Chinese culture. Some say that it is even more important than Chinese New Year because it is about bringing the family together and being united. Now that’s a good message for the boys.