Tea session during Winter Solstice Festival  

Winter Solstice Tea Session-

Drink this Cup of Tea and Grow One Year Older and Wiser
By Hooi Yoke Lien

Ordinary days can be somewhat extraordinary. When it comes to certain day in certain month, we would come up with some specific cuisine or cake and biscuit to celebrate some occasions. With a low-profile we usually don’t celebrate such occasions extravagantly. More importantly the specific cuisine usually bounces out with a hello-I-am-here appearance. The sense of familiarity – as if seeing an old friend – also links to our sense of happiness. And tangyuan – glutinous rice ball soup – is the cuisine for Winter Solstice Festival.

Winter Solstice Festival – known as dongzhi in Mandarin – falls on 21st or 22nd of December every year. Despite the fact that we live in a year-long shiny place without four seasons, since our childhood days we know this is an important festival. Going around the new villages, we would see Chinese families preparing glutinous rice ball soup to worship deities before enjoying the dessert. Those who are not worshiping deities are also preparing it for dessert. Some new village folks knead glutinous rice into a dough, add on pink or pandan leaf colours, and roll it into tiny balls. Boiled in hot water, the glutinous rice balls are well-cooked when they float to the water surface. And then, we would scoop the glutinous rice balls into sweet soup boiled with ginger and crystal sugar and pandan leaves. It would be done with short boiling in the sweet soup.

Winter Solstice Festival is more important than Lunar new year, the elderly often said so. They often want the family members working elsewhere to return home and spend the Winter Solstice Festival together. While schools and offices do not stipulate Winter Solstice Festival as an official holiday, some workers would still take leave to celebrate the festival, and nobody would blame them. Contrarily, they seem to get tacit approval from colleagues and superiors. As such, we know that we still value Winter Solstice Festival and take it seriously.
But why the notion of Winter Solstice Festival is more important than Lunar new year? Among the 24 solar terms, Winter Solstice Festival has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. This is the day of watershed – after Winter Solstice Festival, daytime would become longer. Therefore, ancient people took it as a day which heralds new year. A brand new year starts from Winter Solstice Festival, not Lichun – start of spring.
As early as Zhou dynasty, people were worshiping the sun during spring, earth for summer, moon for autumn, and they worshiped the sky during winter. The ancient people also took Winter Solstice Festival as seasonal climatic change of the nature. It is a blessing gift from the nature, and family members regardless of age should gather together and worship the sky and deities. With utmost respect we welcome a fulfilling and prosperous year. Even in modern days, we still take eating glutinous rice balls as a ceremony signaling ourselves growing one year older and wiser.
The grand finale of Winter Solstice Festival is the tea session which allows participants to enjoy a good time over a pot of tea. While we should not take it too seriously, we must also remind ourselves not to take it in an unorganised manner. We should do it in a hearty manner. For example, quality tea leaves or pot kept for appreciation for all on Winter Solstice Festival. During the tea session, everybody treasures the effort by the tea-brewer to make a pot of good tea for all.
Spending time together to communicate and understand each other more, this is a hearty tea session for Winter Solstice Festival. Old Puer or Liu Bao tea leaves should be ideal for the tea session. Having been kept for some time, seasoning pu-er or liu-bao tea leaves diffuses Chinese medicine-like fragrance. As it tastes sweet and thick, we would also feel warm as we drink it. While we feel reluctant to wave goodbye to the old year and welcome the new, we encourage each other to embrace for new challenges in the coming year. That way, we nurture strength and hope deep in our hearts.

Jia Cang Puer (家藏普洱) is a type of aged Puer loose tea. Kept in a traditional way, the tea is sweet and thick as we drink it. Several servings of hot water, the tea remains vigorous. Subsequent servings would become clearer and tend to be refreshing our mind. 

Enjoy glutinous rice ball soup and grow one year wiser.