“On the second day of the second month (of the lunar calendar), the Dragon raises its head”, so goes the Chinese idiom “二月二，龙抬头” èr yuè èr, lóng táitóu. This year’s Dragon Head Raising Day (longtaitou) falls on March 2, and on this night the dragon is believed to raise its head under the Chinese constellation 星宿 (xīngxiù).
According to Chinese astronomy, the sky ecliptic is divided into Twenty-Eight Mansion grouped into four symbols (四象) under the four cardinal directions: the Azure Dragon of the East, the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, and the Black Tortoise of the North. On the night of March 2, the seven mansions belonging to the Azure Dragon (Horn, Neck, Root, Room, Heart, Tail, and the Winnowing Basket) start to emerge in the East, gradually rising above the horizon. And so we have the traditional belief of the dragon raising its head.
It was first recorded in the ancient text《燕京岁时记》(Yanjing at the Age of Mind): “是日食饼者谓之龙鳞饼，食面者谓之龙须面。闺中停止针线，恐伤龙目也”, meaning: on this day, those who eat bing (pancakes) must refer to the food as “Dragon Scale Bing” and those who eat noodles refer to them as “Dragon Beard Noodles”. In women’s residences, needlework was halted so that the dragon’s eyes were not be harmed. The dragon was believed to control the rain and the wind. The ancient Chinese accordingly attributed the start of the spring rains to the mysterious power of the dragon.
The most well-known tradition on this day is the cutting of hair and millions of people nationwide will get their haircut on what must be a great day for barbers. On this day, if you cut your hair it is believed you will have good fortune for the rest of the year. In addition, Chinese refrain from getting haircuts during the first lunar month of the year as it is believed that 正月剃头死舅舅 (if you cut your hair in the first month, your uncle will die)–bad news for kindly uncles everywhere.
This may seem like a strange tradition, but it is, in fact, related to the Manchu invasion against the Han Chinese, which led to the creation of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) . When the Manchu took over they ordered the Han Chinese to adopt their hairstyle, the queue (an outre style that pretty much looks like a balding man with a ponytail). Anyone who dared to not cut off their hair had their head chopped off.
Han Chinese wishing to keep Chinese traditions alive could only do so in their hearts. The belief that cutting hair during the first month would kill an uncle was widespread at that time, so the Han had good reason not to bother during this particular month. In an attempt to preserve their Han identities they secretly defied rule from outsiders. The words 死舅 have similar pronunciation to 思旧, meaning “remember the past”.
Today this tradition has lost its original significance, but many still believe that having a hair cut in the first lunar month brings bad luck, while having a hair cut on Dragon Head Raising Day gives a blessing from heaven. So, style your hair this Sunday; it might just give you good luck…
Image courtesy of feixin.