In Chinese, there’s a popular saying that goes, “winter solstice is more important than Chinese New Year” (冬大過年 dong digh gwor neen). But how could that be? There’s no official holiday for winter solstice, while you get three days-off for Chinese New Year. Winter solstice involves only one meal, while Chinese New Year is really a four-day-long eating marathon, plus a candy box and all sorts of delicious sweet and savory snacks.
That’s because the saying goes way back. For ancient Chinese, winter solstice was indeed more important. The festival (冬至 dong jee) dates back 3,000 years ago to the Chou Dynasty, and occurs on either December 21 or December 22 each year. It marks the longest night of the year, after which the day will only stay bright for longer — a beginning of a new cycle.
For ancient Chinese, the winter solstice marked the start of a new year, and many celebrated the winter solstice like we celebrate Chinese New Year today. People would save up during the year in order to buy new clothes and prepare food for the winter solstice.
Chinese New Year (春節 chuhn jeet), on the other hand, has its roots in the worshiping of Gods and ancestors for a good harvest, and in celebration for the arrival of Spring in ancient China.