We have to wait two more weeks for the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year so maybe that’s why this blog is sticking to New Year traditions.
The latest insight comes from Dr Qiu, a researcher at Maynooth University, who told me that that the Lunar New Year celebration is not the most popular winter festival in China. He claims that Dong-zhi, the winter solstice is and that makes sense as it is the day when the sun stops its decline and begins its ascent into a new year. When you think of how Newgrange was designed to precisely mark that moment, we can see more resemblances between important days in ancient Ireland and China (and Korea). Dong-zhi is celebrated as Dong-ji in Korea.
There is a story that a famous Han scholar on a cold winter’s morning saw children suffering from chilblains on their ears. He ordered his apprentices to make dumplings lamb and other ingredients and gave them to the poor to keep their ears from getting chilblains. Since then the dumplings are shaped like ears and people, especially in the north of the country, eat them on Dongzhi. In the south there is less wheat for dumplings so instead they eat red and blue rice balls (there is another story based on yin and yang to explain that). In Korea they ate red bean porridge called padjuk and gave gifts of calendars.
I hope these customs don’t change in a world that is gradually getting duller and limiting its menu to hamburgers, pizzas and curries.