冬至 = Chinese Christmas

When I was small, Christmas is called ‘ang moh tang chek’ (english dong zhi) and therefore, the Winter Solstice festival naturally became the ‘t’ng lang tang chek’ (chinese dong zhi) which is translated as Chinese Christmas. Both occassions are just days apart and therefore, were both the same to me when I was small.


The Chinese Winter Solstice is celebrated on the 22nd December, 3 days before Christmas. The Chinese will make rice balls which signifies a completeness (of family, I think).

I had faithfully follow this tradition and when I was married and had a home of my own, I would do it too. I recalled now with a tinge of sadness and a great deal of missing my late mom, many, many years ago when I gave my mom a frantic call that my thong yuen refused to float. She immediately loud out laugh and guessed the problem. In between guffaws, she told me that the same thing happened to my eldest sis when she did the thong yuen the first time too. Duh! It turned out that I used the wrong flour. Instead of glutinous rice flour (tepung pulut), I used rice flour (tepung beras) and ended up with little pebbles instead of soft, sticky, smooth balls.

These balls are made by my kids so quality wise, very ‘char’ (bad=unrounded). But traditionally, white balls are supposed to be larger than coloured ones. And one can have colours in odd numbers only, e.g. either 3, 5 or 7 colours. Green balls are derived from pandan leaves juice. Blue balls are from bunga telang.

Today 19th December, a few days before the real dong zhi 冬至, I decided to let my kids had a blast playing with the dough. They love playing with the dough, making a myriad of coloured balls, some looking like planet earth, mars, jupiter and whatever their imagination allows. Does observing this tradition makes me a lesser Christian? Nope. Because this is a Chinese traditional celebrations. I feel it is important for me, as a Chinese to pass on some Chinese traditions to my sons. One has to be able to differentiate one’s race and culture from one’s religion.

To my non-Chinese friends, what is involved in making these balls is very simple. Mix the glutinous rice flour with water into a stiff dough. Make small coloured balls. Boil in a big pot of water until the balls float. Make a separate pot of syrup consisting of rock sugar and pandan leaves. Put the cooked balls and serve.

To all Chinese friends – happy rolling balls! And a year older.

2 Replies to “冬至 = Chinese Christmas”

  1. Thankyou for this recipe. I will have very special chinese friend staying with me for Christmas and this will be a lovely thing to do.

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