“The Winter Solstice Festival is very important to the Chinese culture. It is celebrated around December 21, the shortest day of the year. This festival celebrates longer daylight, which means that there’s more positive energy. For this festival, families get together and eat tangyuan. Tangyuan are glutinous rice balls that represent reunion. It allows families to reunite.”
My informant learned the item when she grew up in Taiwan. It’s an important Chinese tradition that most people participate in. My mom has been celebrating the Winter Solstice Festival ever since she was a little kid, and now my family celebrates it every year.
My family celebrates the festival on December 21. We have a huge family reunion with my aunts and uncles. We go to a Chinese restaurant to eat a delicious dinner, while catching up on everybody’s life. After dinner, each family separates and goes home. At home, my mom cooks tangyuan for my whole family. Usually, she makes several stuffed tangyuan and many small plain ones.
My mom enjoys this celebration because she loves family get-togethers. With the busy lives that everyone leads now, my parents do not get to see their brothers and sisters often. This festival is a chance for everyone to reunite. This celebration is particularly important to my mom because of the fact that we always have a family reunion on this day. This day also allows my mom to sit down with my family while eating tangyuan.
I think that this festival is significant to Chinese culture and Chinese families. I agree with my mom, and I think that families really don’t have very much time to sit down and talk to each other. Even family dinners are becoming so rare in American families. Parents are always working and children have extracurricular activities and large amounts of homework that keep them from eating at a set time. Also, this festival shows Chinese values. Chinese people value positive things, so the fact that after the winter solstice is over and there will be days with longer daylight is relative to their beliefs.
On the midsummer solstice, or the Eve of St. John, fires are lit and maidens wear wreaths in their hair to celebrate the longest day of the year.
My informant first attended this festival with her family as a little girl, and mostly remembered the beautiful wreaths all of the girls would wear in their hair. She was also able to recall the many fires that were lit and that the men in attendance would jump across them. Also, those in attendance would stay out all day without sleeping to celebrate the length of the day and to appreciate the sunshine. At the end of the festival, all of the girls will throw their wreaths into the fires.
One of the most interesting aspects of this festival is that the different flowers worn in a girl’s wreath have different meanings. My informant remembers wearing white roses, which she remembers symbolized simplicity and purity. Perhaps the most significant flowers worn in the wreaths were lavender and myrtle, and they both represent love. If a girl wears one of these flowers in her wreath, throws her wreath into the fire and the burning wreath is thrown into the river and recovered by a single man, the girl would be said to be engaged to that man, by tradition. Symbolically, this union represents the birth of a new relationship, and the longer days are conducive to this birth.
This festival is uniquely Polish and has been celebrated for more than a thousand years. While mostly celebrative in the native Poland, my informant knows several Poles in other countries that also celebrate the Eve of St. John’s and she believes it’s, “because it’s romantic to look back on one’s culture.”
My informant was raised in Poland and has lived there most of her life. In the late 1970’s, she first participated in this traditional festival as one of her Girl Scout activities. She explained that this festival dates back to pagan times, and that everyone was allowed to participate. They would build a doll of straw and tree branches and dress it in old clothes. The clothes were supposed to look rather trashy and they would decorate the doll to look ugly. Then everyone would gather around to throw the doll into a river. Hence, the Americanized name for this festival is the Drowning of the Doll.
Traditionally, the doll symbolizes winter. After months of freezing weather, the Polish wish to free themselves of the cold, so they personify the winter as a doll. My informant explained that the doll “symbolizes winter, so it’s ugly.” Then, when the doll is thrown into the river, it’s like they’re killing the winter that has passed and they can look forward to warmer months.
The festival is only celebrated by the Polish because it represents their unique pagan past, a time without the foreign influences of modern times. This does not mean that this holiday is only celebrated in Poland. My informant has not attended Marzanna since her youth, but she has heard of instances of people of Polish heritage having their own festivals in other countries to connect them with their homeland