The Winter Solstice in Chinese Traditions - Root + Bones

The Winter Solstice in Chinese Traditions

The Winter Solstice, or Dōng Zhì, is a celebration marking the shortest day of the year and the official arrival of the winter season. Dōng Zhì is also an honored festival in China and much of East Asia, with a history of traditional observance that spans thousands of years. From the Taoist legacy of alchemy, which strongly influenced the foundations of TCM, the Winter Solstice is a potent time signifying the transformation of energies, as the Earth’s movement begins to shift from a descent into the darkness of Yin toward the increasing light of Yang. While all of Winter is a time predominantly characterized by the energies of Yin, the solstice marks a turning point as the days begin to lengthen and the “return” of the light is initiated through the rebirth of Yang energy.  

On this longest night of the year, we can observe the nature of the polar and primordial energies that are Yin and Yang. It is their dynamic and cosmic dance that initiates all change and movement in the cosmos and within our bodies, as the peak excess of one energetic signature creates inertia toward its opposite. During the exact moment of this transition, it is believed that there is a pause characterized by perfect harmony as the opposing forces in all of creation are balanced. At this seasonal turning point, the mysterious fusion of Yin and Yang creates a fertile opening for new creation and rebirth.  

Rituals associated with Winter Solstice vary, but it can be seen as a time of honoring duality. Many people mark this occasion by gathering with family and community in a celebration of union, while it is also an opportune moment for introspection and stillness. It can be a time to recognize the ways both darkness and light each manifest within us, as well as in the world around us. We can make offerings to our ancestors and thank them for our lineages, while also praying for what we wish to birth in the upcoming cycle. It is possible to release to the fire what no longer serves us, while setting intentions for what we would like to invite in. By sitting with the various manifestations of these two polar energies – light and dark, Yin and Yang – we can experience our true wholeness.

By remembering that both Yin and Yang are always present to various degrees, and always pushing one another toward balance, we can temper the fear associated with Winter. The emotion corresponding to this season is Fear, which makes sense as this has traditionally been a time of food scarcity, extreme weather that can endanger life, excessive darkness, and far less social activity or isolation. We can be strengthened by acknowledging that the days are slowly beginning to grow longer and the light is returning, and further help thaw feelings of fear through ritual, taking great care to nourish ourselves well, tending to our warmth, prioritizing rest, and signaling abundance to our bodies with herbal medicine.