The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Winter solstice, the 22nd solar term, is the last solar term in 2017. Winter solstice begins on Dec 22 this year.
Winter solstice marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. The seasonal significance of winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening hours of daylight during the day.
Winter solstice was one of the first solar terms created in ancient China. People in ancient China observed that daytime became longer after winter solstice, which made it a very auspicious day as it signalled a new beginning.
Ancient Chinese people divided 81 days after winter solstice (regarded as coldest time of the year) into 9 parts. Many used "double-nine" diagrams to count the days to spring, either by recording the weather or writing one stroke of a character on a daily basis.
Winter solstice has always been an important festival in China. It was viewed as New Year's day in Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). During Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), officials took the day off and participated in festive activities, where as civilians paid respects to their elders.
China has developed an unique festive food culture throughout the years. Eating dumplings is a common folk custom for many Chinese on the day of winter solstice, especially those living in the north.