Many parts of Asia marks Dong Zhi (aka Winter Solstice) with their own cultural traditions on this special day. On 22nd December, this day of Dong Zhi is commonly cited as the shortest day with sunlight in the northern hemisphere. Many countries consider this day to be an important event as it symbolizes the favourable turn of a new season and good fortune, after the most extreme of winter day is over.
How different is Singapore and Japan in terms of celebrating Dong Zhi? Let’s find out more.
A Singapore Winter Solstice Tradition (Tang Yuan reunion)
In Singapore, winter solstice is known as “Dong Zhi” (冬至).This day serves more like a family gathering occasion. In older times, family members come together to make and eat their own Tang Yuan (湯圓). Tang Yuan are little glutinous rice balls served in sweet broth. These cute dumplings may be plain or stuffed with red bean paste or peanut fillings too. In Chinese, the pronunciation of Tang Yuan is similar to the word “Tuan Yuan” (团圆), which has the meaning of reunion and happiness in Chinese. This sweet dessert is also a tradition for newly wedded couples to eat during their Chinese tea ceremony as it represents a sweet and complete marriage.
Nowadays, Tang Yuan can be easily bought at supermarkets and offers a variety of colours and even flavours. Everything can be prepared in just less than 10 minutes!
A Japanese Winter Solstice Tradition
The winter solstice, also known as “Touji (冬至)” in Japan, is often celebrated by the traditions of eating pumpkin snacks and taking a warm Yuzu bath.
Starting good fortune with food
Being a country famous for its delightable cuisine, celebrating the new year with food is a must for Japanese. Eating food which ends with ‘n’ on winter solstice was thought to bring luck. Therefore, people ate food such as “ninjin (carrot)”, “renkon (lotus root)”, “ginnan (ginkgo nut)” and “kanten (agar)”.
The common name to call pumpkin in Japanese is “kabocha” but also called as “nankin” so it is also recognized as bringing good luck.
The history and benefits of Yuzu
The Yuzu is one of the most celebrated fruits during Touji due to its long history of medicinal and nutritional benefits. With pale yellow skin and uneven skin texture, this mandarin family fruit has a distinctive citrus aroma and not many will be willing to eat it directly due to the sourish flavor. Now in the modern times, it is used more commonly for culinary purposes.
People from the Edo period regard Yuzu as the fruit of purity, to rid one of any evil spirits and misfortune, hence having a Yuzu bath washes off bad luck and gives one a good start to the New Year ahead.
Yuzu has a long tradition and believed to ward off winter colds and flu, and healing of chapped skin. The hot water from the bath helps to release the pleasant aroma from the Yuzu fruit. In fact, a part of the Yuzu’s oil component “Nomilin” gives a relaxation affect, and provides better circulation on your body. As a result, using the Yuzu oil on the skin becomes very smooth after the bath.
If time and budget constraints are an issue to travel to Japan for a refreshing Yuzu bath, you can find yourself a better alternative by making your own Yuzu Bath or experience the Yuzu Hinoki Onsen bath here.
With the wonderful winter solstice traditions of Japan and Singapore, there is only 1 ultimate goal for this festival; bringing in the New Year with happiness and prosperity. Here’s to wishing you all a vibrant year 2017!