Book Recs: Dongzhi Festival & The Importance of Family

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Something I’d like to do is to make Read Think Ponder more personal. Sharing details about my life (aside from my Monthly Recaps!) isn’t really my style, so I thought: why not incorporate cultural festivals or holidays that are meaningful to me into my blog and do something bookish to celebrate?

Yesterday, on the 21st of December, was dongzhi (冬至) festival, or else known as the Winter Solstice Festival. To some, dongzhi is regarded as one of the most important festivals of the year. To some (like my family!), it is equally important to Chinese New Year. How dongzhi is celebrated can vary from family to family; some families may make tangyuan, which are balls of glutinous rice (and they’re super yummy!), and some families make dumplings!

In my family, we don’t make tangyuan or dumplings, but all of us will meet to have a big feast together. I don’t have a lot of family in New Zealand, so it’s just my family, my uncle’s family, and my grandma. Even with our small group, being together on the evening of dongzhi is really important, and takes priority over everything else. For us, it’s the idea of coming together, being together, and appreciating the time spent with each other. We don’t do anything particularly special – mostly just stay at grandma’s house until late, watch TV, talk and catch up with each other. 😊

And now for the bookish part! 💖

Because dongzhi, to me, is all about being with family, I want to recommend four books that are about family or explore familial relationships!

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heartnote

1. THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE BY STACEY LEE

I had the honour and privilege of reading this book before its release when I won it in a giveaway! Releases 27th December 2016 – my birthday!

  • About a mother-daughter duo who are the last aromateurs in the world, and the shenanigans that ensue when the main character, Mim, gives a love potion to the wrong person!
  • Explores all kinds of love – friendship love, familial love, and also romantic love.
  • Highlight of the story: the wonderful, complicated, but ultimately loving mother-daughter relationship!
  • Lee’s writing is phenomenal – vivid, evocative, and gorgeous.

Find The Secret of a Heart Note on Goodreads.

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secondchance

2. SECOND CHANCE SUMMER BY MORGAN MATSON

Do yourself a favour and bring along your fave box of tissues for this read. The lovely Marie recommended me this book, and I had no regrets!

  • About a family, who get along but aren’t close, who come together following devastating news and spend their last summer at their lake house.
  • Though it has a romance, the relationships between the protagonist and her family are far more interesting and emotional.
  • There is some wonderful dialogue, especially between the protagonist and her father; there’s so much honesty, rawness, and vulnerability.

Find Second Chance Summer on Goodreads.

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jlc

3. THE JOY LUCK CLUB BY AMY TAN

Let it be known that The Joy Luck Club and Amy Tan in general can be, at times, problematic, but this book is incredibly relatable and such a significant piece of fiction, and has a special place in my heart.

  • About four Chinese immigrant mothers and their daughters, their lives, and the complicated, sometimes war-like, but fiercely loving relationships between mothers and daughters.
  • Explores the great hardship and struggle immigrants and women endure.
  • But also about the hope mothers have for their daughters, and the sense of loss and disconnect that arise when cultures clash.
  • Note: The representation of Chinese men in the book/movie is slightly problematic.

Find The Joy Luck Club on Goodreads.

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saga

4. SAGA BY BRIAN K. VAUGHAN & FIONA STAPLES

I haven’t read many graphic novels, but Saga is definitely up there! The hype for this is completely justified – you won’t regret reading it.

  • A sci-fi space opera about two soldiers on opposite ends of a bloody war, and the chaos and hope that ensues when they bring a little life into the galaxy.
  • Has one of the most memorable, most dysfunctional, and most adorable family – as well as the strays that they pick up along the way.
  • Though it explores other themes like justice, war and its consequences, and loss, it is also about hope, the things we do for love and family.

Find Saga Vol 1 on Goodreads, or read my review.

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We don’t wish people ‘happy dongzhi!’ or anything like that; I show that I care by being present and being with my family on dongzhi festival. Even if you don’t celebrate dongzhi, I encourage you all to be thankful and show love for your family or the people that you love today. 💖

So friends, tell me:

  • Do you celebrate dongzhi? If so, what do you and your family do?
  • What are some of your favourite books that were about family and/or familial relationships?
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25 thoughts on “Book Recs: Dongzhi Festival & The Importance of Family

  1. My family is Taiwanese and we actually don’t celebrate 冬至. We used to celebrate Christmas (until my younger sister found out that Santa isn’t real) more but now the holidays are just a time for us to hang out as a family.
    I’m super excited about The Secret of Heart Note. I have it preordered from Amazon so hopefully it arrives fast. :D

    • Hi Shenwei!
      Ahhh oh no! My family doesn’t really celebrate Christmas either – for us, it’s just a good excuse to get together as a family and have yum food too. 😊

      Ahhh! I hope you enjoy The Secret of a Heart Note! It’s a lovely book!

  2. Lovely post! THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE asfhsjdkgs I’m so excited for its release. I’d heard of Saga but didn’t realise it had a nice focus on family relationships too, that’s going up my TBR. :)

    That sounds FANTASTIC with incorporating cultural festivals in a bookish way here. ^_^ My relationship with cultural festivals isn’t as meaningful as I wish it was. My parents were quite young when they came to Australia (as students) and yeah same here with not having much family here (only immediate family, though we now sometimes see my cousin + half-brother who have been living here a few years) — so I feel pretty disconnected from both Western and Chinese traditions at times.

    So, with DongZhi, we’ve never celebrated it before but I actually discovered it by accident this year when scrolling through the SBS news site XD (it’s an Australian channel focused on multiculturalism, and they had an article up of multicultural celebrations in December). My parents didn’t even realise what I was talking about and thought I was making a mistake, they had to look it up haha. We did end up having tangyuan :D

    Everything I Never Told You (fiction) is an incredible book about family relationships. And I also loved Unpolished Gem (memoir) by Alice Pung — she’s probably more well-known for Laurinda, a YA book, now, but this one particularly resonated with me.

    • Hi Wendy! Oh gosh, I love your response! *U*

      AH I’m so excited for you to read The Secret of a Heart Note! Saga is an awesome SFF graphic novel – probably one of my favourites! It has a lot of themes, but I think family is the underlying theme of the story. 😊

      Hehe thank you!! I think it’s a great for me to combine the two together!
      My parents came to New Zealand 30+ years ago, but they’ve always instilled in my sister and I to keep close to our roots, even though we’re far away. I can understand feeling disconnected though – I feel that way sometimes too, but I guess I do my best to make do with what I have. One day when I have a family of my own, I will pass my family’s traditions down to them!

      Aw, that’s nice!! Tangyuan is sooo yummy. I really should learn how to make it so I can help my grandma make it next CNY. 😊

      Thank you! I’ve been recommended Everything I’ve Never Told You and it’s sitting on my shelf… I WILL read it sooooon… *sweats nervously* XD
      I’ve never heard of Unpolished Gem, but thank you so much for telling me about it. I’ll endeavour to read it!

    • Hi Grace!

      Thanks! It’s not really a well-known festival outside Asian countries, but a very important one to those who celebrate it! 😊

      It’s great! I also quite like the The Joy Luck Club movie if you aren’t too interested in the book.

  3. This is so wonderful! I love learning about other culture’s holidays specially this time of year since you mostly hear about Christmas. I’m interested in The Secret Heart of Note now, I’d never given it much of a look but since you recommend it, I might give it a read

    • Thank you so much, Sara!

      Hehehe, I’m glad you can learn something! That’s what I was aiming for! 😊 Haha, quite true! My family kinda celebrates Christmas… as in, we exchange gifts and have a big feast, but that’s about it!

      Yes, it’s a great book! Highly recommended, especially if you want something sweet and fluffy! 😊

  4. This is such a lovely post, and it’s so sweet of you to share more about your life and special days to you in your culture :)
    I’m so, so happy you enjoyed Second Chance Summer so much :) Also, I really want to read The Secret of a Heart Note now. I heard a bit about that book before, but now I want to read it right now ahah :)

    • Thank you so much, Marie! 😊

      Hehe, it’s my pleasure! I like the idea of combining two things that are important to me, and maybe people can learn something about me/my heritage too in the process! 😊

      I LOVED IT. Thank you for recommending it to me and breaking my heart, hehehehe! ❤
      The Secret of a Heart Note is a lovely, light book and I think you’d like it! 😊

  5. Thank you for these recommendations! My mother has been telling me to read The Joy Luck Club in forever – maybe next year will finally be the year where I do. I don’t think I’ve read a lot of books that focus on familial relationships, though the one that jumps to mind is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. My family doesn’t celebrate dongzhi – we’re a little bit disconnected from Chinese traditions – but we do like the glutinous rice balls! 😆

    • Hi Cilla!

      No problem at all! ^_^ If you’re not really interested in reading the book, I actually quite liked the movie. I watched the movie first, and then read the book!

      Hey, that’s ok! The glutinous rice balls are deliciouuuus. I can’t wait to eat them next year on Chinese New Year, which my family and I celebrate. ^_^

  6. What a lovely post! I didn’t even know about this holiday/celebration and I am in awe. What a perfect way to celebrate by spending time with your family and spreading kindness and love. I hope that you had a lovely time. I have never read The Joy Luck Club and it sounds like a book that I will enjoy. Thank you so much for sharing! <3

    • Hi Olivia!
      Aw, thank you so much. Dongzhi means a lot to me and my family, and we did have a wonderful time! ❤
      The Joy Luck Club is a great book, despite its flaws. If you’re hesitant to read the book, I recommend the movie – I watched the movie before reading the book and I quite like the movie better – though that might be a first-time bias!

  7. This post is very lovely! I’m half chinese so we don’t really celebrate all the chinese festival, I think the ones we celebrate are chinese new year and qing ming._. I love Second Chance Summer, family plays an important part in the book and it’s super sad!

    • Hi Tasya!
      Thank you so much! ❤ Ahh hey, that’s ok! We don’t celebrate many either – I think we do CNY, Dongzhi, and Midautumn Festival, and that might be it? My fam doesn’t commemorate Qingming, but my grandma does.

      Right?! I love Second Chance Summer. I think it has a special place in my heart because of its family themes.

    • You’re very welcome, Amanda! ❤
      Haha yes, I am quite familiar with Thanksgiving! I suppose it’s similar, except I don’t think dongzhi festival has any historical roots and we don’t ‘give thanks’ or anything like that — at least not in my family!

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