24 Solar Terms: 9 things you may not know about Start of Spring
A painting of Start of Spring and spring cake from Li Xiaolin. As a popular young Chinese artist, Li combined the customs during a solar term and the associated food and created a series of illustrations named "24 Solar Terms and Chinese Delicacies". [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Start of Spring (Chinese: 立春), the first solar term of the year, begins this year on Feb 3 and ends on Feb 17.
Start of Spring lifts the curtain of spring. After that everything turns green and full of vigor; people clearly see that the daytime is becoming longer and the weather is becoming warmer.
Here are nine things you should know about Start of Spring.
Start of Spring and Spring Festival
As a solar term, Start of Spring had already entered people's lives in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). At that time, there were eight solar terms. According to some experts, the 24 solar terms were used for the first time in books during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), when the Start of Spring was set as the Spring Festival. In 1913, the first day of the first month of the lunar year was mandated as the Spring Festival.
Flying a kite
Spring is the best season for kite-flying. A traditional folk activity, it has a history of more than 2,000 years. It can help build one’s health and prevent diseases. It also has the effect of promoting blood circulation and speeding up metabolism. A breath of fresh air outside can discharge the foul smell accumulated in winter.
Erecting the egg
In China, it is said that the egg can be set upright on the first day of the Start of Spring, Spring Equinox day and Autumn Equinox day. It is believed that if someone can make the egg stand on the first day of Start of Spring, he will have good luck in the future.
According to astronomers and physicists, setting the egg upright has nothing to do with time, but with mechanics. The most important thing is to shift the egg’s center of gravity to the lowest part of the egg. In this way, the trick is holding the egg until the yolk sinks as much as possible. For this, people should choose an egg about 4 or 5 days old, whose yolk is inclined to sink down.
Wearing fabric swallows
Wearing fabric swallows is a custom in some regions in Shaanxi. Every Start of Spring, people like to wear a swallow made of colorful silk on their chests. The custom originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The swallow is a harbinger of spring and a symbol of prosperity and happiness.
Biting the spring
In many parts of China, people observe the custom of "biting the spring" on the first day of Start of Spring. They eat spring pancakes, spring rolls, or a few mouthfuls of carrots.
Making a Spring Ox
This custom in Shaanxi is practiced right before the Start of Spring. The local government hires some skilled artisans and gathers them to build the frame of an ox out of bamboo strips and the legs with wood. Then they paste some paper and paint onto it—and, voila! The image of an ox is complete. It is said that if more red and yellow paper is used, then there will be a good harvest that year; if black paper is pasted, then the year will be poor. When the paper ox is ready, there is a ritual to paint the eyes. After that, people will set up an altar for it and worship it.
Posting spring calligraphy and paintings
The custom of posting calligraphy and paintings on one's door in the spring first appeared during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). People would do so to welcome spring and pray for good luck on the first day of Start of Spring.
Appreciating plum blossoms
Plums blossom from the 12th lunar month to the second month of the next year. The plum blossom, as it fights against the cold, is the most highly regarded. In China, the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum are praised as the four gentlemen of Chinese flowers.
People in China began holding a special ceremony on the first day of Start of Spring about 3,000 years ago. They made sacrifices to Gou Mang, the god of Spring, who is in charge of agriculture. By the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), greeting spring had become an important folk activity. In Beijing, government officials welcomed spring in the wild field near Dongzhimen (the east gate of Beijing).