Wrap up tight because today marks the arrival of the coldest, harshest period of winter, called the Greater Cold, or 大寒 (dàhán).
It is the last solar term, or 节气 (jiéqì), of the year. On the bright side, you can break out the lanterns and write a few couplets because it’s also the day when you you should officially kick start the Spring Festival celebration with a “small Spring Festival,” or 小年 (xiǎo nián) if you will. We have previously covered the ritual of sending the Kitchen God away, and it just so happens that the two occasions happen on the same day this year.
Is Greater Cold really the coldest time of the year? It depends on your region in the country, of course, and also remember that the 24 solar terms were invented over 2,000 years ago based on observation of the sun’s motion and were originally meant to reflect the temperature, precipitation, and climate of the lower reaches of the Yellow River. And climate change – well, let’s not even get into that one.
However, because these terms accurately mark the 24 points of the sun’s specific longitudes throughout the year, they are relatively fixed on the Gregorian calendar and should still reflect seasonal changes.
In folk culture, every solar term commences a special period associated with seasonal customs, especially when it comes to preserving one’s health according to TCM beliefs. It is traditionally recommended to add “bitter” food in your diet to balance the yin and yang in your body. By “bitter” food, TCM refers to vegetables such as celery, asparagus, lettuce, and endives. It’s also high time to nourish your body, or jinbu (进补), with hearty fish, mutton, beef, and other meat soups. Also, keep away from cold food to prevent the yang in your body from being harmed during the coldest time of the year.
In any case, stay inside, have some warm soup, and have a happy (preliminary) Spring Festival!
Photograph by Carole Lauener (刘露露)