24 Solar Terms in Chinese Calendar — Chinese Culture
Chinese Traditional Calendar consists of 24 Solar Terms, which correspond to the sun’s position in the ecliptic and is an accurate guide for agriculture in the history of China.
Every 15° apart along the ecliptic, there is one solar term representing a season, temperature, agricultural and natural phenomena.
Generally, each lunar month contains two solar terms, and each solar term in Chinese culture has many poems describing it and some to-do customs.
In the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), people set the first four terms presenting four seasons; later it evolved into eight.
In the year 104 BC, the Twenty-Four Solar Terms were officially established and widely applied in the history of China.
Beginning of Spring
4th or 5th of February
When the spring breeze sways the ground, the whole world regains vitality. This is the day of beginning and hope in the Chinese Calendar.
In the history of China, emperors would hold a big ceremony to welcome spring and pray for the harvest. Civilians also would celebrate the season of seeding, when they put clay-made cattle in front of the east gate of the city wall. After sacrifice rites, people would whip this clay cattle in turn and then take some pieces home, representing an upcoming bumper year.
The favorite food of this day is the Spring Pancake, a filmy wrapper with some delicious stuffing. Nowadays, the ceremony of whipping clay cattle only exists in some villages, but the Spring Pancake is still quite popular.
Colorful paper cut and decoration is widely applied in many places. These Spring decorations could be attached to the window and front door, or as hair ornament and armlet, showing that the splendid season is coming.
19th or 20th of February
The mild breeze brings warmth and melts snow and ice; the air becomes moister when more rains fall on earth. Then here comes the Rain Water solar term, when various plants start to grow and wild geese fly back to the north. This is a good time for sowing.
Besides working hard on the farmland, people also consider this day as the time to seek blessings and show gratitude, since the early water of the spring is quite valuable, and it nourishes the earth.
On this day, some parents will search for their children a nice godfather who could help bless their kids. They used to find a nice stranger on the street, but now only from acquaintances. Also, married couples would visit the wives' parents with different gifts, showing gratitude for raising up the wonderful women.
Waking of Insects
5th or 6th of March
With the temperature getting warmer, the spring thunder awakens the animals that are in hibernation. On the day of Waking of Insects, according to Chinese custom, people will hold a ceremony to worship the God of Thunder and pray for proper rainwater for the whole year.
In an agricultural society, plagues of insects could cause severe damage. So, the expelling of harmful insects, both for houses and farmland, was significant in the history of China. During this period, various methods of insect elimination activities will be applied, the most widely accepted one is fumigation.
The pronunciation of "Pear" is similar to "Leave" in the Chinese language; hence, eating pears on this day means that all the insects and bad luck would be leaving the family.
Spring of Equinox
20th or 21st of March
Spring of the Equinox is the midpoint of the spring when the length of daytime equals nighttime.
In the history of China, emperors would hold a ceremony to worship the sun, when civilians would worship and memorize their ancestors.
People would try to have eggs stand straight on this day.
Flying kite is another popular activity, especially among women and kids. When the kite is flying high, people would cut the string and let the kite go with the wind, meaning take away all the bad lucks.
In other places of China, people write their wishes on a kite and send it into the sky, wishing immortals would know and bless their dreams to come true.
4th or 5th of April
During this term, the weather becomes clear, warm, and cool, and everything beings to grow. It is a busy season for cultivation in farmland.
A prince named Ji Chonger (697 B. C. — 628 B. C.) was framed up by his stepmother and was exiled outside of his country for several years, during which he always needed to escape from assassinations. Once, when he escaped to a mountain and fainted from starving, his loyal follower Jie fed him some meat and saved his life; soon he found that Jie used his own flesh to save him.
Years later this prince finally defeated his enemies, came back to his country, and claimed king; then he achieved great success, and was respected as the most honorable overlord. Afterward, he rewarded many of his loyal followers, but Jie already left and lived in seclusion.
The king then led his army finally arrived the Mount Mian, where Jie and his old mother were living; but Jie didn’t want any reward and hid somewhere difficult to find. The king then listened to a general’s suggestion and set fire on this mountain, believing that Jie and his mother would be forced to come out and meet him. However, after the fire was extinguished days later, he only found Jie and his mother’s bodies, under a big willow tree.
The king felt extremely sad and guilty. Then he commanded everyone to eat cold food on that day when no one should use fire to cook. Soon, he surprisingly found that the dead willow tree, under where Jie and his mother departed, came alive. The king believed that the tree was Jie’s incarnation; so he prayed to this tree, took a branch of it, and left.
Since then, eating cold food and snapping willow twig became an important activity on this day. Gradually, it became an important festival, named Qing Ming, to sweep tombs of the deads, and to memorize and worship ancestors. In addition, because of the nice weather of this period, tree planting, hiking, flying kites, and playing on swings are popular activities as well.
20th or 21st of April
In Chinese culture, rain of this solar term is believed could nourish all types of grains in the growing season.
In the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), a brave young man had saved a beautiful peony from a flood. Later, this flower, who was actually the Fairy of Peony, incarnated into an extremely beautiful woman and fell in love with this young man.
Before this happy couple’s wedding day, the fairy and many of her friends were captured by a demon.
This young man fought bravely and killed this evil, rescued those flower fairies; however, he sacrificed as well.
This brave young man was born and departed on the date of the Grain Rain. So, on each year’s Grain Rain day, millions of peonies will be blooming, showing the fairy’s eternal love.
Beginning of Summer
5th or 6th of May
When the temperature keeps rising and everything is flourishing, the summer begins. Chinese emperors would hold the ceremony to welcome this season and award ice stored in last winter to important officials.
Kids will play a fun game of hitting boiled eggs. In Chinese culture, people believe that eating boiled eggs this day could protect kids from summer diseases.
Another custom in this term is to weigh at noon, praying for long life and good luck.
21st or 22nd of May
When Grains are full but still immature, here comes the term of the Grain Buds, also named as the Lesser Fullness of Grain in the Chinese Calendar.
On this day, Chinese people would start using water wheels to irrigate their farmland. In some places of China, people would worship the God of Water Cart, a white dragon, to pray for adequate rainfall.
In southern China, it is believed that the term of Grain Buds is the birthday of the Fairy of Silkworm; so they also would hold a worship ceremony to pray that their precious silkworms could stay healthy and productive.
Grain in Ear
5th or 6th of June
In the Chinese Calendar, this is the time to harvest awn crops and sow millet crops, an incredibly busy season in the agriculture society.
It is also the day to farewell to Fairy of Flowers when many blossoms are fading. On this day, women would dress up, and decorate trees and flowers using various types of colorful pendants, to show their gratitude for the beautifulness that those fairies brought to the world. This was an important custom in the history of China.
Making Green Plum Soup is popular as well. Those fresh plums, after having been boiled with the icing sugar, Licorice, or slat, would taste both sweet and sour, which is a very delicious and healthy beverage in hot summer.
21st or 22nd of June
This is the turning point of the sun when the northern hemisphere has the longest daytime and most crops are in their primes.
On this day, Chinese emperors and officials would hold a sacrificial ceremony to worship the land and pray for fortune and harvest, while civilians would worship ancestors and eat different food. Those ceremonies now don't exist anymore, but delicious food never goes out of date.
The Northern Chinese eat cold noodles on this day, while people in the south eat Wonton. Women send each other sophisticated fans of scented powder to prevent prickly heat.
7th or 8th of July
The weather gets hot since this term, so, this is the day when Chinese people take most of their stuff out and put them under the sun, trying to dehumidify to proof moth and mold.
Children would take off the five-color strings that they wore since the Dragon Boat Festival; many of them throw the strings onto the roof to let magpies take away. Then, on the Double Seventh Festival, when the only day the separated fairy and her husband are allowed to meet, those magpies could use these countless five-color strings to make a beautiful bridge over the galaxy for them.
22nd or 23rd of July
This is the hottest and most scorching period, with a large amount of rainfall. People in some southern places of China would build a big wooden boat stuffed with many types of food, naming the Boat of Heat; then send it to the river, and burn it down when it arrives at the sea.
By doing this, they believe that the scorching weather and bad luck will leave with the boat, after which the weather will become better and the risk of the flood will be eliminated.
Another popular activity is trying to stay cool and eat food that can help people feel less hot, such as watermelon, mutton, and Bean Jelly.
Beginning of Autumn
7th or 8th of August
When the cool breeze arrives and the leaves of Phoenix Tree fall, autumn is finally coming. In the past, the royals would hold a big ceremony to welcome autumn and worship some former great monarchs, while civilians would use their newly harvested foods to worship their ancestors.
This is the season of harvest, so Chinese people also would worship the God of Land to show gratitude. After having helped each other finished harvest, they would take food to the market to sell.
Farmers also get together and share watermelon or other local food, this is named the Bite of the Autumn, trying to get rid of bad luck and celebrate the harvest of this years’ hard work.
In some places of southern China, people also spread out their food and bask them under the sun to dehumidify.
Another fun custom is to eat more food and try to gain some weight, which can help people get through the following harsh winter. However, this is only popular in old times.
End of Heat
23rd or 24th of August
The hot weather will be leaving soon in this term; eagles begin to prey on birds and most crops are fading in northern China. Meanwhile, it is also a good season to hike and travel, since the weather is cool and comfortable, and peasants had finished harvesting.
The Ghost Festival is in this term when in Chinese mythology the gate of another world would open and the dead could come back to visit the world they left. Therefore, this is an important day to offer sacrifice to ancestors.
Some religious sites of Taoism and Buddhism would also hold ceremonies for homeless ghosts who are not memorized by anyone.
The beautiful river lamp is another way to show people’s memory and blessing, and to help nameless ghosts find their way to reincarnate. Lotus-shaped river lamps can guide every ghost reach to a good end.
7th or 8th of September
With the weather is getting colder, glittering dew would appear on many plants. Wild goose and swallow will be setting off to the south, while other animals begin to store food for the upcoming winter.
In some southern places of China, the most important custom of that day is to hold a big worship ceremony to the God of Water named Yu the Great, the hero who conquered huge flood and founded the first dynasty in China. Since autumn is a good season for the fishing industry, people believed that Yu could protect them be safe and have a good harvest.
In some other places, people would collect ten types of white color food, and eat them on the White Dew day, which is believed can help them stay healthy and lucky.
23rd or 24th of September
This is the midpoint of autumn when the length of daytime equals nighttime. From royals to civilians, all the Chinese people would worship the moon on this day.
Gradually, the moon worship ceremony became the Mid-Autumn Festival on the 15th of August in the Chinese Calendar, when the moon is beautiful and perfect.
Some seasonal vegetables and fruits are the most popular food for that day, as well as the Glue Pudding. Flying kite and trying to have eggs stand straight is popular in some places in China as well.
8th or 9th of October
Cold Dew is the term when the weather is getting colder, the dew becomes more plentiful, and the chrysanthemum begins to blossom.
Since the Cold Dew is close to the Double Ninth Festival, they share many same activities in Chinese culture, such as climbing a mountain, drinking chrysanthemum wine, and eating flower cakes.
23rd or 24th of October
When the whole land is covered by a layer of frost and the grass turns yellow, people know that winter is on the way.
Frost is the representative of stern and solemn, so in history, this is a good season for training troops and hunting.
Civilians’ favorite activity is to appreciate chrysanthemum, the most beautiful flower of this season, with family and close friends. Eating persimmon is believed a good way to prevent cold and flu while the weather is getting cold. In some places of China, duck, taro, or mutton are popular as well.
Beginning of Winter
7th or 8th of November
Seeing water freeze means the winter officially comes. In old times, Chinese emperors would hold a ceremony to welcome the winter, pray for those who sacrificed protecting the country, and then award clothes and hats to officials.
On that day, besides the normal ceremony to worship ancestors, people also would burn five-colored paper, which is still applied in many places in China nowadays. It’s believed that departed ancestors in the other world could use these colorful papers to make clothes that can keep them warm in the upcoming winter.
Afterward, the family would have a feast together to celebrate the harvest of this year. In some places, people would divine about the next year’s production.
In the agriculture society, winter was a relatively less busy season in history, when schools' winter sessions were quite popular and many kids began to learn knowledge.
22nd or 23rd of November
This is the time that the snow comes and the weather gets colder when farmers are getting involved in the production of agricultural sidelines in the history of China.
People also would pickle vegetables or make a food named Ciba, which is made of sticky rice with delicious stuff.
7th or 8th of December
When snow is getting heavier and many animals begin to hibernate, the term of the Major Snow in the Chinese Calendar arrives.
This is the day when Chinese people start to pickle meat for the new year.
It is also believed that this day is a good time to eat fine food and gain more energy to prevent sicknesses, such as lamb, local fruit, or porridge.
22nd or 23rd of December
Among 24 solar terms, the Winter Solstice was the first to be established in the history of China.
Over 3000 years ago, Ji Dan, the regent of the Zhou Dynasty, was trying to use GUI (a timekeeper template) to locate a center city, where they planned to make as their new capital. They found that the length of the sun’s shadow is the longest on the Winter Solstice day, so they made this day the beginning of the new year, until a thousand years later.
It is believed that this day is the time when Yin fades away and Yang begins to grow, a lucky day to celebrate. On Winter Solstice, Chinese emperors would lead officials to hold a big ceremony to worship heaven, while civilians send greetings to each other.
The favorite food in northern places of China for that day is dumplings, while in the south are glue pudding and noodles. People also eat mutton, red bean, pumpkin, sticky rice, etc.
5th or 6th of January
This is the season when the coldest time of the year is coming; also, plum blossom, the fighter in winter, will bloom.
Spring Festival, the most important holiday in China, is not far from the Lesser Cold. Therefore, from that day on, people would begin to prepare everything for the Chinese New Year, like fireworks, lucky paper cut, and holiday couplets.
20th or 21st of January
The Great Cold brings the most frigid weather but was also the ending of the winter.
Farmers would get ready for next year’s planting, while others continue to prepare and then celebrate the Spring Festival.
Illustration pictures of 24 Solar Terms are designed by Shi Changhong; photographs are taken by Zhou Jie.
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