Today marks the day where the sun casts its shortest shadow, according to China’s 24 solar terms (节气 jiéqì). Xiazhi (夏至) or Summer Solstice, literally translates to “summer’s extreme” in Chinese. Xiazhi is the first out of the 24 to be set as a solar term during the Warring States Period. Traditionally, Xiazhi occurs around the time of wheat harvesting, so it was included as a libation ceremony where people make offerings to gods during rituals. Some also suspect that the Dragon Boat Festival originated from Xiazhi festival.
How did people traditionally celebrate Xiazhi?
Zhou Dynasty: starting from the Zhou Dynasty, people have been conducting rituals to honor gods. This continued to be a “Nation’s Great Celebration” until the Qing Dynasty. People normally eat “Xiazhi noodles” on this day.
Officials in the Song Dynasty had 3 days off starting on the day of Xiazhi, so that all officials could rest at home. In palaces, imperial chefs prepared a type of Xiazhi wontons, made especially for the emperor and his concubines.
During the Liao Dynasty, people celebrated Xiazhi by exchanging gifts. Ladies would give each other colorful fans and makeup products for the summer.
Prior to the Qing Dynasty, the whole nation had one day off for Xiazhi, where people across the country celebrate the arrival of Xiazhi according to their own customs.
What do people eat on Xiazhi?
According to Old Peking customs, lettuce and cold noodles are to be eaten every year during Xiazhi. Of course, the noodles would be the traditional Beijing cuisine noodles (炸酱面 zhájiàngmiàn).
In Shandong, there is the saying “冬至饺子夏至面” meaning: Winter Solstice, dumplings; Summer Solstice, noodles (Dōngzhì jiǎozi Xiàzhì miàn). On the day of Xiazhi, people generally eat cold noodles.
Jiangsu province enjoyes “3 delicacies” on Xiazhi. The 3 earth delicacies are hsien tsai or amaranth (苋菜 xiàncài), broadbeans (蚕豆 cándòu), and almonds (杏仁 xìngrén). The 3 tree delicacies are cherries (樱桃 yīngtáo), plums (梅子 méizi), and toon, the leaves on a Chinese mahogany (香椿 xiāngchūn). The 3 water delicacies are sea silk (海丝 hǎisī), carp (鲫鱼 jìyú), and duck egg (鸭蛋 yādàn).
People in Wuxi drink wheat porridge in the morning and eat wontons at noon.
In Zhejiang, Xiazhi is the day to eat nutritional foods, such as red dates with eggs.
Shanxi enjoys zongzi (粽子) on the day of Xiazhi, which is why some think that the Dragon Boat Festival, where people also eat zongzi, came from Xiazhi.
Those in northern Sichuan cook porridge with lotus leaves or white gourd to cool off the summer heat.