BEIJING, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- The 2013 winter solstice, which officially falls on Sunday in China, was miscalculated and marked one day early on some calendars and cell phones, triggering a pleasantly confusing two-day celebration of the festival across the country.
Winter solstice day is the day with the shortest daylight hours and longest night of the year. According to the official astronomical calendar of the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, this year's winter solstice falls at 1:11 a.m. on Dec. 22 in China.
However, over half of the paper calendars in a randomly selected stationery store in Beijing marked Saturday, Dec. 21 as the winter solstice day. Some Android mobile phones also appeared to have the same problem, while iPhones showed the correct solstice date.
Experts said the calculation of the winter solstice is based on the tropical year, which is 365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes long. This means the festival does not always fall on the same date. In 2012, the solstice fell at 7:20 p.m. on Dec. 21.
The mistake was probably made by simply counting 365 days from the previous winter solstice, while neglecting the remaining 5 hours and 49 minutes, experts said.
Chinese people regard the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of the coldest period, as a golden opportunity for family reunions and a big meal.
Orient King of Dumplings, a popular dumpling chain restaurant, told Xinhua that turnover on both Saturday and Sunday have seen a surge compared with regular business days.
"There are two dumpling 'eating spree' days this year, thanks to the inconsistent labeling of the winter solstice on calendars," said a waitress in downtown Beijing.
Dumplings, a traditional food in north China, are must-haves on the winter solstice, as Chinese people believe that those who don't eat dumplings on the day will have their ears frozen by the biting cold.
In southern China, where eating habits are very different from the north, people traditionally dig into sticky rice balls, noodles and chicken soup on the winter solstice day.
The winter solstice was traditionally a Thanksgiving-like holiday in Chinese history. Chinese emperors would worship heaven on this day to express gratitude for the bumper harvest of the past year, and pray for good fortune in the next.
Chinese legend has it that Zhang Zhongjing, a renowned herbalist of the Eastern Han Dynasty (24-220 AD), prepared a huge pot of dumplings with mutton and herb fillings on a bitter winter day in what is now central Henan Province. According to the legend, he saw villagers with their ears frostbitten and desperate for food. Those who ate Zhang's dumplings soon recovered and passed on the custom, which soon spread to other parts of north China.
Wang Zihui, who works in the southern city of Hangzhou, took a day off on Friday, although his boss did not approve, in order to fly back home to north China to celebrate the winter solstice -- only to find he had arrived one day early.
"But I don't feel angry at all. It is always worth it to have one more day of get-together with my parents, even if it means making my boss angry," Wang said.