For most of us in the US, winter makes us excited for the celebration of Christmas. When Josh and Amanda first moved to Asia to serve, they weren’t sure what to expect during their first winter. Cultural traditions and holidays vary so widely, they knew they would probably not be having the Christmas they were used to back home.

The winter solstice occurs around December 20-22, and is the shortest day of the year. After this, the days get gradually longer leading into spring. In the area where Josh and Amanda live, the solstice is celebrated as their main winter holiday, comparative to Christmas in our culture. People celebrate the “turning of the sun,” and the brighter, warmer days that will be coming soon. It’s a time to be with family and friends and people often gather together to share a meal.

During their first year on the field, Josh and Amanda were invited to join their neighbors for a traditional solstice meal. The meal consists of steamed dumplings and a soup with sweet sesame rice balls. Traditionally, the dumplings are said to keep your ear warm through the remainder of the cold season. Ironically, Amanda thought the dumplings were shaped kind of like ears.

The solstice is also a time where people visit the graves of their ancestors. A few days before this meal, families will go together to talk with their deceased relatives, and often burn fake money at the gravesite for the person to use in the afterlife.

This is one of the first major cultural experiences Josh and Amanda had, and they hope to grow the relationships formed with their neighbors. They also hope to gain a better understanding of how these holiday traditions impact the people’s daily spiritual beliefs. Holiday and the cultural traditions surrounding them can provide valuable insight int a community. By making an effort to participate and understand the people’s customs, Josh and Amanda already have a great foundations set up for learning more in the future.

*Names and places have been changed, for security purposes.

Photo Credit: Torbjorn Sandbakk