A painting of Spring Equinox 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”.
The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides a year into 24 solar terms. The Spring Equinox (Chinese: 春分), as the fourth term of the year starts on March 20 and ends on April 3 this year.
The Spring Equinox signals the equal length of the day and nighttime. On the day of the Spring Equinox, sun is directly above the equator. After the equinox, the sun moves northward, resulting in gradually longer day time in the Northern Hemisphere and longer night in the Southern Hemisphere.
Here are 5 things you may not know about the Spring Equinox.
Swallows and Sweet Spring Rain, by Shi Lihua.
Swallows fly north
The ancient Chinese people divided the fifteen days of the Spring Equinox into three “hou’s,” or five-day parts. As the old saying goes, swallows fly back to the North in the first hou; thunder cracks the sky in the second hou; lightning occurs frequently in the third hou, which vividly reveals the climate feature during the Spring Equinox.
Standing an egg upright is a popular game across the country during the Spring Equinox. It is an old custom that dates back to 4,000 years ago. People practice this tradition to celebrate the coming of spring. It is believed that if someone can make the egg stand, he will have good luck in the future.
Some believe that the Spring Equinox is the best time to practice this game because on this day the axis of the earth is relatively balanced against the orbital plane of the earth’s rotation around the sun, which makes it easier to erect an egg.
Vegetables, by Zhang Dazhuang.
Eating spring vegetables
Eating spring vegetables during the Spring Equinox is a commonly practiced custom in many regions of China. ‘Spring vegetables’ refers to seasonal vegetables that differ from place to place. The ancient teachings in the Chinese classic, Huangdi Neijing, suggests that people eat seasonal foods to help preserve health and bring good luck.
Sun God, by master Fu Baoshi.
Sacrifice to the Sun god
During the Spring Equinox, an old tradition practiced by Beijing locals is offering sacrifices to the Sun god. This tradition is called “Zhonghe Festival”. The “Sun Cake”, a round cake made from wheat and sugar, serves as the main offering.
In the Ming Dynasty (1368－1644) and Qing Dynasty (1636—1912), the imperial family held this ritual in Ritan park every Spring Equinox. The Ritan park gradually became a common place for public recreation. However, the practice still exists among the public.
Farm Cattle, by master Xu Beihong.
Reward farm cattle
This practice is popular in the southern area of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. As the Spring Equinox comes, farm work starts and both the farmers and the cattle start to become busy. Farmers will reward cattle with sticky rice balls to express their gratefulness. Meanwhile, people will also make sacrifice to birds, to thank them for bringing signals for farm work and to ask them not to eat grains later in the year.