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Today is Dongzhi, time to eat tangyuan!

Dongzhi Festival traditions in Taiwan, including tanguan

(Image from flickr)

(Image from flickr)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today (Dec. 22) is the Dongzhi (冬至, extreme of winter) Festival or winter solstice, the longest day of winter based on the lunisolar calendar, the following is an overview of some of the traditional customs practiced by Taiwanese on this day.

During the Dongzhi Festival in Taiwan, people traditionally make tangyuan (湯圓, soup round), which are balls of glutinous rice boiled in a sweet soup, to symbolize reunion, completeness, and their consumption ensures a smooth and peaceful new year.

In addition to eating glutinous rice balls, UDN reported that farmers used to feed their cattle tangyuan to reward them for the hard work they put in over the year. Others would stick tangyuan on the horns of their cows, symbolically representing the feeding of the glutinous rice balls to them.

Because they symbolizes unity and completeness, tangyuan are also served during weddings, moving into new homes, the moving of deities to new temples, and placing ancestral tablets. The first giant panda born in Taiwan was named Yuanzi (圓仔, round little one), because it resembled a round rice ball when it was born, and because it was cute and auspicious, the name stuck.

UDN also pointed out that according to Taiwanese folk tradition, the eating of tangyuan signifies the eating of Yang energy or Qi. Based on the Taoist view of yin and yang in nature, the winter is when yin energy is at its peak, while summer is the peak of yang energy, therefore eating the yang of tangyuan welcomes the coming of summer in the future.

Today is Dongzhi, time to eat tangyuan!
(CNA image)

In addition to eating tangyuan, people in Taiwan traditionally drink tonics to "warm" their bodies based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) core tenet of balancing yin and yang within the body, which in this case means trying to consume foods that are more yang (warm) in nature to counteract the yin (cold) of winter.

Examples of tonics that Taiwanese consume during this period that are more yang in nature, include sesame oil chicken soup, ginger duck stew, mutton hotpot, herbal chicken soup, ginseng chicken soup, and silkie chicken soup. It is this time of year that chain restaurants that specialize in just one these dishes really kick into high gear, with lines out the door and seating for customers spilling onto the sidewalk.

Popular chains that sell these dishes in Taiwan include Bawei Ginger Duck (霸味薑母鴨), Changjiang Mutton Hotpot (長疆羊肉爐), Wanhua Sesame Oil Chicken (萬華麻油雞), Fengxianju (鳯涎居), and Yushanbao (御膳寶).

Today is Dongzhi, time to eat tangyuan!
Sesame oil chicken.

However, the Department of Health warned against consuming tangyuan in excess as the high glycemic index of glutinous rice, coupled with the fat and sugar added as fillings for the dumplings, those will diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease, should be careful to limit their consumption. Also, as glutinous rice is more difficult to digest, and to avoid gastrointestinal issues, it is advisable not to consume too many in one sitting. It is best to consume tangyuan during the day to provide the body with more time to digest.

A doctor of TCM at Taiwan Landseed Hospital, Chen Tsung-cheng (陳宗政), in an interview with Liberty Times said that due to the unseasonably warm weather this winter, people should take care and not consume too many such tonics to generate heat when it's not necessary. Chen also said that if a person experiences dry mouth, a red tongue, excessive body heat, insomnia, constipation, acne, they could also be signs of overdoing it with warming (Yang) herbs and foods.

Chen recommended that those that wish to consume herbs and tonics for specific medical conditions during the winter, should first consult with a qualified TCM physician to ensure that they are receiving appropriate, balanced treatment based on their physical condition.