As I'm sure you already know, 21 December marks the Winter Solstice, in other words, the shortest day. Hundreds of people gather each year during the winter solstice to watch the sun rise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.
The pagan celebration of the solstice was one of the most popular holidays of the year before the coming of Christmas, Hanukkah and other cultural celebrations that are now celebrated in December. Many of the participants observe the solstice because they believe it is connected to something real in nature rather than just an arbitrary calendar date.
Technically, the Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. although the Winter Solstice lasts only an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midwinter to refer to the day on which it occurs.
The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the dongzhi solar term on or around December 21 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù (復, "Returning").
Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan (湯圓, as pronounced in Cantonese; Mandarin Pinyin: Tāng Yuán) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice (Korean: 새알심) (English pronunciation: Saealsim), is prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean (Korean: 팥죽)(English pronunciation: Patjook).
Did you know...?
Patjook was believed to have a special power and sprayed around houses on winter solstice to repel sinister spirits. This practice was based on a traditional folk tale, in which the ghost of a man that used to hate patjook comes haunting innocent villagers on the winter solstice.