Editor's note: The 24 Solar terms are an ancient Chinese calendar used to guide farming. They are the crystallization of the accumulated experience and wisdom of the working people of the Chinese nation. Since ancient China was an agricultural society, people required a strict understanding of the sun’s movement, and farming was conducted entirely according to the sun as well. Therefore, the “24 solar terms”, which reflects the sun’s movement cycle, were added to the calendar as the standard for determining leap months. The 24 solar terms are: Start of Spring, Rain, Awakening of Insects, Spring Equinox, Qingming festival, Grain Rain, Start of Summer, Grain buds, Grain in Ear, Summer Solstice, Minor Heat, Major Heat, Start of Autumn, End of Heat, White Dew, Autumn Equinox, Cold Dew, Frost’s Descent, Start of Winter, Minor Snow, Major Snow, Winter Solstice, Minor Cold and Major Cold. On November 30, 2016, China’s “24 Solar terms” were officially inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. We have introduced this 24 Solar terms column to bring you a taste of the beauty of traditional Chinese culture.
When Major Cold comes, it means the lunar year is coming to an end. Major Cold, also known as “Dahan” in Chinese, is the last solar term of
the winter and also the whole year. It usually falls around January 20, not far away from the Spring Festival. A Chinese proverb describes the days after Major Cold as “the days of waiting for three things.” Those are” waiting for the hens to lay eggs, the hawks to hunt fiercely, and the center of the lake to freeze completely.
During Major Cold, as the cold current moves southward, the weather is very cold. Although modern meteorological observation shows that in some regions of China, the weather during Major Cold is not colder than Minor Cold, the lowest temperature of the whole year still occurs in Major Cold in some coastal areas. During this time of year, people in China prefer food that’s warm and soft in order to get the required nutrition and keep their body warm.
Major Cold always coincides with the end of the year in the lunar calendar. As the last of the 24 solar terms, it also represents the beginning of the Spring Festival. Thus, there is a folk saying which warns: "prepare for the New Year after the Major Cold." At this time, people all over China are keeping busy.
It’s important for people to prepare food to welcome in the New Year, and there are distinct differences between the north and the south. The most distinctive meats for New Year in the north are beef and mutton. No matter what cooking method is used, these are indispensable meat dishes on the tables in China's northwest during the Spring Festival. In the south, preserved meat is an important part of the festival every year. Different provinces in the south also have their own preferences. Among them, the taste of preserved meat and the way it’s produced vary in Guangdong, Sichuan, and Hunan provinces. People living near the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River mainly prefer preserved fish. However, in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, rice cakes are an indispensable dish. Legend has it that the first rice cake was made in Suzhou Province.
It's also important for people to make special purchases to celebrate Spring Festival. In some areas of China, people fall over each other in eagerness to buy sesame straws during this period because of the old saying, “rise joint by joint like sesame flowers on the stem”, which is used to describe either ever-rising living standards or making steady progress in the realms of one’s thoughts, studies or skills. During this period, in many rural areas of China, there exists tradition of worshipping Earth God or Kitchen God and wishing for blessing. Apart from offering sacrifices to the god, in some companies, businessmen usually also pick this day to treat their employees as a reward for their work.