There’s a miniature Spring Festival, and it’s today

Wrap up tight, because today marks the arrival of the coldest, harshest period of winter. It’s aptly called the Greater Cold or Major Cold (大寒 dàhán).

Dahan is the last solar term, or 节气 (jiéqì), of the traditional Chinese lunar 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 Lunar New Year celebrations with a “Small New Year,” or 小年 (xiǎo nián) if you will. We have previously covered the ritual of sending the Kitchen God away, and in some years, the two occasions take place on the same day.

Is Major Cold really the coldest time of the year? It depends on where in China you live; and also remember that the 24 Solar Terms were invented over 2,000 years ago based on observation of the Sun’s movement for agricultural purposes. They were originally meant to reflect the temperature, precipitation, and climate of the lower reaches of the Yellow River. And the influence of climate change–well, let’s not even go there.

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 basic 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,” 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 further harm 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)

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author Liu Jue (刘珏)

Liu Jue is the co-managing editor of The World of Chinese Magazine. She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Minzu University. She has been working for TWOC since 2012. She is interested in covering history, traditional culture, and Chinese language.

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