The Winter Solstice Festival is celebrated by the Chinese on 22nd December. It is a day of merry making feasting and thanksgiving. It is not only a day for setting out hopes for the coming year but also for ancestor worship. In ancient times, it is customary for the Emperor of China to fast on the eve of the Winter Solstice to prepare for the ceremonial rituals and ancestor worship which was carried out on the Altar of Heaven in Beijing. On the day itself, the Emperor would offer sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven. Fifth day as dry and clear, it would mark a peaceful year ahead.
Nevertheless, if the day was wet, it would mean turbulent year would be imminent. The Winter Solstice Festival is actually a family celebration where family members who live far and near gather for a family dinner. Prayers are also offered at the family altar. The day is marked by the preparation of tong Yen, a dish of glutinous rice flour balls in syrup. The process involved the making of ground glutinous powder into dough. Then, half the dough would be colored red and the rest left white. The roundness of the balls homebodies family co-operation and union.
Usually there would be twelve larger white balls symbolizing the number of months of the year. The rice balls would be boiled until they are cooked. Everyone must eat at least one such ball to indicate that one is a year older. Alternatively, the cooked balls can be coated in Soya bean powder or peanut powder. In the present days, there are families which make the rice balls. Most of the time, the youngsters will help to make the balls. It is a fun activity for them as they get to compete with each other to make the roundest and the most umber of balls.
Parents will be the judges and give a reward to the winner. When my mother has enough rice balls, we are allowed to shape the balance into any shape we like. They would also be boiled and we will eat our own creatures. Nowadays, the winter solstice festival is not celebrated like it should be. Most families opt for the ready-made balls with fillings. People are simply too busy to observe traditions and customs. It is not a public holiday and so, many young people tend to forget that such a festival even exists.
Moreover, no en wants to eat tong Yen as it is tasteless and not attractive at all. We seem to have become too sophisticated to enjoy the simple pleasures of life as a family. Lest we get to down to celebrating Winter Solstice Festival, its practice will soon be forgotten and there will be no reminder that a person is a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Itself, the Emperor would offer sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven.