This week, we will talk about the Chinese solar terms in winter. The six winter solar terms are: Li Dong (“Beginning of Winter”), Xiao Xue (“Minor Snow”), Da Xue (“Major Snow”), Dong Zhi (“Winter Solace”), Xiao Han (“Minor Cold”), and Da Han (“Major Cold”).
As the first winter solar term, Li Dong begins early on November 7th. Xiao Xue is the second term, beginning on November 22nd. In Chinese agriculture, farmers believe that snow fall during Xiao Xue is beneficial to the crops. This has led to the creation of a number of proverbs. Da Xue arrives on December 7th and is indicative of an increase in snowfalls. The 4th term, Dong Zhi, starts on December 22nd. Xiao Han follows Dong Zhi on January 5th, and Da Han ends the winter solar terms starting on January 20th. Both Xiao Han and Da Han represent frosty weather.
For Chinese people, the most important winter solar term is Dong Zhi. Since the Qin Dynasty (from 221 BC), Dong Zhi signifies the beginning of the New Year and the start of a new cycle of seasons. Dong Zhi is celebrated in many regions of China by eating special, traditional dishes beneficial to one’s energy. Generally speaking, Northerners prefer to share a meal of dumplings, while Southerners favour Tangyuan, a type of glutinous rice balls. Other common food items part of a Dong Zhi menu include rice wine and mutton soup. Chinese people believe that these food serve two functions. First, they ward off the cold weather. For instance, in some regions, people believe that eating dumplings will grant them “spare ears” if their ears are bitten by frost. Second, traditional Dong Zhi dishes are thought to fend off evil spirits. In parts of China notably, sticky rice with red beans is eaten to fight the plague.