Category Archives: Festival

Tangyuan (Sticky Rice Ball), Chinese Dessert Served at Dongzhi Festival


“I remember my mom staying up on the eve of Dongzhi to make Tangyuan without filling, so everyone of our family could get up the next morning with a bowl of hot Tangyuan boiled with brown sugar and water. Our Dongzhi day started with soup Tangyuan. And that night when our family celebrated reunion, everyone joined in molding Tangyuan into balls as a family event. The ball shape, or round shape in China, is usually associated with the wish for ‘团圆’, which literally means reunion. The Tangyuan we made during Dongzhi dinner actually didn’t matter as a food, you could eat them whenever you wanted, because what actually mattered was the process of our family making Tangyuan together.”


The informant is a 22-year-old female who currently studies in Singapore and grew up in Swabue, a coastal city in Guangdong, China. The informant spent every Dongzhi festival (Winter Solstice dated in the Chinese solar calendar) with her family before attending college. Tangyuan is a Chinese dessert made of sticky rice containing filling such as sesame paste, molded into balls. Whereas Tangyuan is usually associated with the Yuanxiao festival, the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the informant remembers Tangyuan as a signature dish for Dongzhi. The Dongzhi dinner is an annual reunion commonly seen in Chinese families, and the informant’s family is from Swabue specifically, where people traditionally favor Tangyuan without filling.


Dongzhi is a special day of the year according to most Chinese families. Historically in ancient agricultural practice, Chinese farmers planned their years working in the fields according to the Chinese solar calendar. As a marker for the beginning of winter when farmers usually ceased agricultural work, hence Dongzhi is traditionally a time for family members to gather and start spending the rest of the winter together. To celebrate a year’s hard work and the family’s reunion, Dongzhi dinner is an identifying Chinese folk experience, but the experience can vary among different locales. In the informant’s case, her signature Dongzhi food is Tangyuan without filling, whereas people from different parts of China may have Tangyuan with sweet filling, or savory, meat filling, or even enjoy other food at Dongzhi such as dumplings. 

In addition to her filling-less Tangyuan, the informant found her Dongzhi experience special because Tangyuan was enjoyed twice with nuanced intentions. On the morning of Dongzhi, the family enjoyed soup Tangyuan prepared last night by her mother, and this was when the food itself mattered the most. During or sometimes after the Dongzhi dinner, the family made Tangyuan together again, but this time the process mattered more. The round shape of Tangyuan is usually associated with the Mandarin word “Tuán Yuán” (“团圆”, both characters mean roundness separately, when joined together they usually suggest family reunion). Consequently, starting the day with Tangyuan symbolized when the best wishes for “Tuán Yuán” began, and this is when “团圆” was reflected symbolically through consuming Tangyuan. Whereas, in the latter case, family members joining each other to work towards the same goal reflected “Tuán Yuán” factually. As a result, the informant remembers Tangyuan with the theme of “Tuán Yuán” in mind ever since she was little, making Tangyuan the central part of the Dongzhi festival experience.

Poon Choi, One-Pot Cantonese Festival Dish


“Since I can remember, my family has been ordering Poon Choi from local Cantonese restaurants on the eve of Chinese New Year, and I’ve always considered Poon Choi as the centerpiece of the dinner we had on New Year’s Eve. Poon Choi is this one-pot Cantonese dish made up of ingredients such as chicken, fish maw, crab, dried fungi, and other expensive proteins and seafood. I believe each ingredient was usually cooked in a way that symbolized something, or the name itself was a pun for a wish, such as ‘may you be prosperous’. I can’t remember every wish in Poon Choi, and the ingredients can differ, but the point is Poon Choi is a luxury that is usually enjoyed on New Year’s Eve only.”


The informant is a 22-year-old female who was born and raised in Foshan (a city in Guangdong province, China) and currently studies at USC. Before attending USC, the informant spend every Chinese New Year with her family, and as a typical Cantonese family, her family considered Poon Choi as a New Year’s Eve “must-have”. According to the informant, Poon Choi (“盆菜”, “盆” refers to the pot containing the dish, “菜” means dish literally) is usually not delicious because when cooked in one pot, the ingredients’ taste mixed up. However, Poon Choi assembles a variety of expensive ingredients and has traditionally been the most significant Cantonese dish to wrap up a year.


Though the name Poon Choi was literal, the ingredients in Poon Choi are usually puns referring to different New Year’s wishes. The informant listed a few ingredients she remembered seeing in the Poon Choi she had, and each of them was there for a reason. For instance, in Poon Choi there usually was this dish called “Pig Trotter Brewed with Fat Choy”, and Fat Choy is a dried vegetable named “发菜”, traditionally used in the pun for “发财” (pronounced as “Fā Cái”, which is similar to the pronunciation of Fat Choy and means becoming rich). The combination of pig trotter and Fat Choy symbolically represents the wish for “wealth in the grip”, with “grip” reflected in the pig trotter and “wealth” suggested in the pun. 

Besides symbolism, the expensive ingredients in Poon Choi were included to highlight the luxury theme, including dried fungi, fish maw, shark fin, and dried abalone. Ending the past year with a luxurious meal involving Poon Choi was considered a reward for a year’s hard work and the best way to celebrate the coming year. Surprisingly, none of the informant’s family actually enjoyed Poon Choi’s flavor, but they never spend one New Year’s Eve’s dinner without Poon Choi. Self-identified as a typical Cantonese family, the informant thought her family prepared Poon Choi to uphold a renowned Cantonese tradition fully intentionally because Poon Choi must be ordered weeks in advance.

Welcoming the God of Wealth on the 5th Day of the Chinese New Year


“On the 5th day of the Chinese New Year, my family used to have this ritual to welcome the God of Wealth into our home because the 5th day of the New Year is believed to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. We set off fireworks before they were banned, had a feast, and worshipped a portrait of the God of Wealth on this Buddha altar we had in our home which usually closeted a Buddha statue. Our worshipping usually involved burning incense and pouring him a cup of Chinese liquor. Though I believe the God of Wealth was not actually a Buddhist god, my family didn’t believe in either and it was rather a casual superstition to wish for prosperity in the following year.”


The informant is a 23-year-old female who was born and raised in Guangzhou (the capital city of Guangdong province in China), and is currently a graduate student at USC. Her family is a typical Cantonese family that values tradition and according to her, is a little superstitious. Due to fire hazards, fireworks are now not allowed in cities like Guangzhou, so her most vivid memory of welcoming the God of Wealth dates back to when she was a child. The informant openly expressed her nostalgia for a grand celebration as a remnant of the past.


Though most Chinese families are atheists, worshiping the God of Wealth is more of a casual superstition and is often considered a part of the Chinese New Year celebration. This was reflected in the informant’s case, given how the family had a Buddha altar and placed the portrait of the God of Wealth there, yet they believed in neither Buddhism nor Taoism (the God of Wealth is considered a Taoist god). Wishing upon Buddha and the God of Wealth was a superstitious ritual carried out lightheartedly to wish for good fortune and prosperity, the typical wishes for a new year. 

On a personal level, this memory mattered to the informant because it reminded her childhood, her time spent with her family, and the many celebrations that had been lost as she grew up including fireworks. Today’s public discourse on Chinese mainstream media frequently complains about why the celebration of traditional festivals, most notably Chinese New Year, doesn’t feel as grand and enjoyable as it used to be. The informant acknowledged and agreed that the past was already lost, and spoke of this specific experience she used to have once a year nostalgically.

Ski Torch Parade – Sun Valley, Idaho

Every year on New Year’s Eve in Sun Valley, Idaho, hundreds of skiers participate in the “Torch Parade” that occurs at night on the main slope of the mountain. This is done every single year, and participants always use bright red torches as they follow the path down the slope. The informant describes the event as looking like brake lights in traffic going all the way up the slope. The informant who described the tradition is from Idaho and witnesses the parade every year on new years eve; they said everyone from the town and those visiting see this act as “blessing the slope for a good year to come and a safe/fun ski season,” but also says it is just a celebration for the city to commemorate the passing and beginning of another year. The informant themself says they have not done the parade as they ski enough during the year, but that it is very common for avid skiers, and especially visitors to participate in the torch run. The main emphasis from the informant was large, bright red torches being used at night down the main slope on new years eve.

Context – The torch parade is a common practice for ski slopes, but has been seen in all different variations among different ski towns/locations. Each town may have their own reason, explanation, or even design of the torch parade, but every year Sun Valley, Idaho does this specific time and looks for the parade. Another friend of the informant had heard of a torch parade occurring earlier in the ski season at another location, but seemingly attracting the same amount of people. Sun Valley is also a popular location for winter/new year celebrations which adds to the amount of participants and viewers of the parade.

Analysis – The torch parade can be simplified as a communal celebration linked to tradition. While it may have started smaller or even with definite reasons for participating (such as good luck for the new year or lighting the path), nowadays it is very common that there are vast reasons for participants. Either way, this tradition has grown root and reason within Sun Valley, and even in other places when they do the torch parade. This ritual can serve as a way of coming together in the belief of celebrating December 31st (as opposed to Chinese new year), as well as a fun way to “bless the slopes” while skiing at night which is not always done.

St. Patrick’s Day Southside Chicago

In South Side Chicago there is a major parade that occurs every St Patrick’s Day, and it is an unwritten rule that you have to dress up, even further than just green. Most of the community shows up and camps out to go to the parade, bar hop, and hang out — similar to a block party (except it is a long main street). Throughout the day, the song “Rattlin’ Bog” is played over speakers, through bagpipes, phones, etc. For this tradition, you gather in a circle and “pass the torch” of drinking either your own drink, or an Irish liquor that is passed around. The game is that you drink throughout each section of the song and as the song continues, the section gets longer, making it difficult if you happen to be the last person. This is played every year, and multiple times throughout the day; all different ages participate, and even kids play their own version if they are too young to drink. The informant explained this is a very important part of this area of town, particularly because of the Irish population

Context – St Patrick’s Day is a massive celebration among everyone, but particularly Irish individuals who feel extra umph to celebrate a day tied to their nation-state. As there is a major party, parade, and well documented celebration in Ireland itself, the Irish population of Chicago feels compelled to also celebrate big and embrace their heritage on Saint Patrick’s day. This occurs in a predominantly Irish area of the city and serves as a way to come together and celebrate Ireland/Saint Patrick.

Analysis – The Chicago celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day can be simplified as a way in which individuals with Irish heritage can grasp on to their past lineage and embrace “their land” although being removed from that specific area. There is a sense of pride for Irish participants in the St Patrick celebration. Particularly in Chicago, this celebration creates a wide sense of community and is a deeply practiced event as there are ways for people of all different ages, backgrounds, and identities to be able to participate in the vast moments of celebration.