The Winter Solstice, or Dōng Zhì (Chinese: 冬至), is the 22nd of 24 solar term of the year in the traditional Chinese calendar, marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Seasonal changes and shifts are important themes in Chinese medicine. The ancient Chinese realized that human beings can live a healthy life, when they live in harmony with the laws of nature. Therefore, for one to achieve a health life, we must first have a profund understanding of the rythme and characteristic of the nature.
The Meaning of Dōng Zhì 冬至
Winter Solstice is the day the Earth's poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It is usually 21st or 22nd of December in the northern hemisphere. Most Western countries or culture recongize the Winter Solstice as the mid winter or the beginning of winter. However, for the Chinese culture, especially in the I Ching system, Winter Solstice means the “extreme of Winter- Strongest Yin power” and at the same time the rebirth of Yang.
Yin and Yang Interaction
The above diagram is the typical Yin Yang symbol combining with the 64 I Ching hexagrams in the sequence of 24 solar terms. Yin is the dark part of the figure, where Yang is the light part. Yin and Yang is the opposite and yet interdependent forces. They provide context for the opposing force - without darkness, there is no concept of light; without coldness, there is no concept of warmth; without stillness, there is no concept of movement, etc. There is a little circle of Yang within the Yin, and a little circle of Yin within the Yang, which implies that nothing is completely Yin or completely Yang. Each time when Yin reaches it maximum, Yang arises, and vice versa.
The insights of the Winter solstice
Seasonal shifts are important in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as the seasons affect us in mind, body and spirit. Yin being the dark, cold, inward, feminine aspect as opposed to Yang’s bright, warm, energetic masculine energy. To keep staying health, one must know the interaction and balance of Yin and Yang. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects 10% of the population. As the days have been getting shorter and shorter, we’ve been entering the time of the year in which we receive less sunlight, which in turn impacts our serotonin (mood), circadian rhythm and melatonin (sleep and mood).
From the point of view of the I Ching, the corresponding hexagram to the Winter solstice is no.24, 'Fu 復' meaning 'to return'. This hexagram is made of one continuous line (Yang) below and 5 broken lines (Yin) above. The majority and dominating energy is the Yin energy, but with the sight of the raising Yang.
On the day of Winter solstice, marks the strongest Yin, the longest night of the year. The weather is cold and unsuitable for farming. We need to burn a lot of energies to keep up with the basic needs. Since the stored heat in the earth is already used up, the weather will get even colder in the coming weeks. However, for this day on, the day will grow longer by each day until the Summer solstice. We are in the longest darkness, and yet we know that light is coming. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
History and cultural significance
The importance of Winter solstice can be traced back to the New Stone age. It is thought that the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge, the massive stone monument in England, purposely aligned it with the winter solstice sunset (as well as its summer equivalent), likely for ritual purposes. Both Eastern and Western culture has corresposding text, architect and customs related to the day. The Winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. From this time on, people are mostly using up their energy and food storage. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Farm animals will be slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter thus fresh meat is available. Wine, beer and other fermented products are ready to be consume.
Dōng Zhì is the celebration of the Winter Solstice in China and other Asian countries. This festival was one of the most important of the year, some say even more important than the Chinese New Year. It is traditionally a time when family members come together to share a meal, often eating a dish of dumplings or rice balls symbolizing reunion and togetherness.
Healthcare Advice For Winter Solstice
From the day of Winter solstice, the days are still short and weather still cold. The life energy, symbolised by thunder- the arousing, is still underground. Movement is just at its beginning. Therefore, the life energy must be strengthened by rest and avoid using the energy prematurely. By doing so, it allows the energy to renew itself. To get you through the months ahead, let’s take a look at the teaching from Huang Di Nei Jing ("The Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor") :
“The three months of winter denote closing and storage. Water freezes and the earth harden. Do not disturb the yang - go to bed early and rise late. You must wait for the shining of the sun. Allow the mind to enter into a reserved state and keep the faith. Avoid the cold and seek warmth. Refrain from sweating as it causes the Qi to be carried away quickly. This is in resonance with the Qi of winter and the Way to nourish storage.” (The Great Treatise on Regulating the Spirit with the Four Seasons, Su Wen Chapter 2) 《四氣調神大論》冬三月，此謂閉藏，水冰地坼，無擾乎陽，早臥晚起，必待日光，使志若伏若匿，若有私意，若已有得，去寒就溫，無泄皮膚使氣亟奪，此冬氣之應養藏之道也。
Diet Suggestion for Winter
Winter is the time to eat foods with a warming and supplementing nature. In general, all animal meats are warming, and can be consumed by people who have a cold and weak constitution. In particular, meats such as lamb, mutton and venison are most warming and seasonally appropriate. Cooking methods that add more warmth to foods include roasting, baking or slow cooking. Avoid cold foods like salad, chrysanthemum, mint, yogurts, tropical fruits, and overconsumption of refined sugars.
Before refrigeration or importation of foods, green vegetables were less available in the cold seasons. Use fermented or preserved vegetables instead, or those vegetables that can be stored like root vegetables and cabbage. Alcohol in moderation is warming and invigorating, especially when traditional mulling spices are added in (such as in mulled wine). Spices like pepper, nutmeg, cumin, and fennel seeds warm the body. However, people with autoimmune disorders (allergies, skin issues), migraine or chronic digestive problems (acid reflux, IBS) should still avoid alcohol and strong spices.