The Origin of Having Dumplings on Winter Solstice

During Winter Solstice of the traditional Chinese calendar, dumplings become the essential festival food. Every one in China will eat dumplings in Winter Solstice, so supermarkets and store are quick to sell out of the festival favorite. But why do people eat dumplings in midwinter? It is said this custom is to commemorate the great medical sage Zhang Zhongjing.

Zhang Zhongjing, who wrote treatise on exogenous febrile disease and miscellaneous disease, was from Canglang of Nanyang. Doctors of successive dynasties recognized the work to be classic. Zhang Zhongjing was Changsha’s satrap in the Eastern Han Dynasty, and he also practiced medicine at the same time. To cure disease of his villagers, Zhang Zhongjing firmly resigned his official title to go back to his hometown. It was just winter when he went back to his hometown. He saw many villagers were emaciated with sallow complexion and suffering from cold and hunger. Many of their ears were mashed because of the cold weather. Zhang Zhongjing asked his disciples to pitch a medical tent and put up a pot to boil “charming ear soup” during midwinter to dispel cold and cure chilblain. He put mutton, red pepper and some medicines which can dispel cold together into the pot. After a few minutes, he fished the mutton and medicine out of the pot and cut them up. Then he used dumpling wrapper to wrap the diced mutton to make “charming ears”, which looked like ears. People felt warm all over and their ears become warm after they ate “charming ears” and drank “dispelling cold soup”. Their frozen ears were cured. Later, ancestors learned to make “charming ears”, which are now called “dumplings”.

There is also a legend about Nvwa and Dumplings. It is said there was a woman called Nvwa who had a human head and the body of a snake when Pangu created the world. Seeing there was a large hole in the sky, she mended it by colored stones. And she also made the human beings with Earth. When the cold Winter Solstice came, the ears of the human beings always froze off. So she made a hole in their ears and threaded a line across the ears to the mouths, and the human beings could prevent their ears from falling off by biting this line. People today eat dumplings (with the shape of ears) during Winter Festival. They bite the stuffing (which is of the same pronunciation as the line in Chinese) to celebrate this day. Many districts of China eat dumplings on Winter Solstice Festival and some places eat wontons. People in Guangxi usually have steamed bean curd buns.