2 Chinese Winter Festivals You Should Know

Harbin, China winter ice festival

With the winter festive season in full swing, you may be curious about what end-of-year festivities your students partake in. China doesn’t officially observe any holidays which means work and school are still in session and not many families will take long vacations during this time. However, families and communities in China do have reasons to be festive! Two major celebrations can be found during this month: the Dongzhi Festival and the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. Here’s how both are celebrated.

Dongzhi Festival

The Dongzhi Festival, or the Winter Solstice Festival, is a prominent holiday that is observed not only in China but also in Japan and Korea. The festival always falls on the day of the winter solstice and this year, it will take place on December 22. The root of the festival’s celebrations is in the concepts of yin and yang, which describes how two opposite forces complement each other to uphold balance. Yin symbolizes darkness and chill, while yang symbolizes light and warmth. So the Dongzhi Festival, taking place on the shortest day with the longest night of the year, celebrates the recognition that warmth and light is on its way after a cold, seemingly ceaseless evening. 

In China, there are two popular dishes differentiated by region that are associated with the Dongzhi Festival. In the southern region of China, a popular food for the festival is the tangyuan, which is glutinous rice balls cooked in a warm broth. Both the rice balls and broth can be sweet or savory. The round rice balls, representing unity and reunion, are usually a variety of bright colors and can be filled with red bean, black sesame, or meat! As for the broth, it can be a meat broth or a ginger broth. In the northern region of China, lamb dumplings are the most common dish for the festival. These dumplings attribute to Zhang Zhongjing, a doctor in the Han Dynasty who gave lamb dumplings to poor, frostbitten farmers during the wintertime. People thus eat these dumplings as a tradition to honor the doctor’s good deeds. These dumplings are boiled or steamed instead of fried, making them quite juicy and easy to eat.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival

This festival of 34 years is quite a spectacle! Harbin, also known as the Ice City, is one of the coldest cities in the world with temperatures as low as negative 12 Fahrenheit (negative 24 Celsius). Frigid conditions make Harbin a perfect destination for creating incredible, staggering wintry sculptures. By using the ice from the nearby Songhua River, craftsmen from around the world build structures and statues that will typically follow the festival’s theme for the year. These sculptures are massive in size and possess colorful lighting effects that glow from within. Some ice and snow sculptures are even judged in respective competitions during the festival.

Harbin’s festival draws in millions of visitors each year. To accommodate crowds of such a size, the event continues to grow and has become the biggest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world. For the Harbin Ice and Snow World, the event’s most popular attraction, it spanned 600,000 square meters with over 100 landmarks in 2019. There are plenty of sculptures and structures for visitors to interact with and behold, but there are many activities available as well. These include ice skating, skiing, and even swimming! For those less interested in winter sports, there are many performances, galleries, and sculpture showcases to see.

The festival will take place from the end of December to the end of February, but those dates are dependent on the weather of this northeastern Chinese city. Because the Harbin festival wraps up in late February, many families will also visit the Ice City during the Chinese New Year holiday, which goes from January 24 to January 30.

Although not all Chinese families will go to these winter festivals, be sure to ask your students if they do anything fun with their loved ones during this chilly yet festive month! You can also share their reaction and link to this blog post on social (Don’t forget to tag us @VIPKid)!