Longtaitou Festival***

People pay tribute to the dragon king of sea and god of salt on the occasion of Longtaitou Festival in Weifang, east China’s Shandong Province, March. 2, 2014. The Longtaitou Festival, or Eryueer Festival, which means “dragon raises head” in Chinese, is the starting day of farm and fishery work of a year. People held the sacrificial ceremony to pray for seasonable weather with gentle breeze and timely rain in fishing and salt industry.

Hair cut on Longtaitou Festival for good luck

The most famous tradition on this day is to have a haircut. Some people believed that going to the barber on the second day of the second month would get rid of bad luck, while others believed it was very bad luck to get a haircut during the first month of the lunar calendar.

There’s an old saying, “Cut your hair in the first month and your uncle will die.” Nowadays most people pay no attention to the tradition but seniors say in the old days patrons would line up outside barber shops on the Dragon Head Raising Festival.

The traditional Chinese Longtaitou Festival, or Dragon Head Raising Festival, falls on the second day of the second lunar month every year, which refers to the start of spring and farming. The festival falls on March 10 this year.

Ancient people believed that after the second day of the second month on the Chinese lunar calendar, the rain will increase because the rain-bringing Dragon King has awakened from his winter sleep.

There is a widely known idiomatic phrase which goes, “Er yue er, long tai tou”. It means “On the second day of the second month, the dragon lifts his head.”

The festival is a reflection of the ancient agrarian Chinese culture, and some of the old ways to celebrate the festival are no longer in practice, but some still carry on.

Food connected to the Longtaitou Festival

People eat toufu balls in East China’s Fujian province during this festival. People often make the tofu and vegetable balls to pray for family and business.

Traditional chengyao cakes are sold in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu province. Suzhou has a tradition of eating chengyao cake on this day as an old saying goes, if you eat chengyao cake on Longtaitou, your waist will not hurt all year. Chengyao cake is a kind of Chinese traditional cake made with sticky rice.

People in parts of Shandong province eat fried beans to celebrate the festival.

There are also food with dragon names. Dumplings, spring rolls and popcorn are all given dragon names. Noodles are called dragon’s beard (long xu), dumpling are dragon’s ears (long er), spring rolls are dragon’s scales (long lin), and popcorn is called dragon seeds (long zi).

 Folk activities like dragon dance are also held during the Longtaitou Festival across the China.

The Longtaitou Festival (simplified Chinese龙抬头traditional Chinese龍抬頭pinyinLóng Táitóu), also known as the Eryueer Festival(二月二), is a traditional Chinese festival held on the second day of the second month of the Chinese calendar. The festival is a reflection of the ancient agrarian Chinese culture. In the tradition of Chinese culture, the dragon is believed to be the king of all creatures and the ancestor of human beings. It is also believed to be in charge of bringing rains, and both of these are important factors in ancient agricultural society. It is literally referred to as “Dragon rising its head” (lóng tái tóu, 龙抬头) because the dragon was traditionally regarded in China as the deity in charge of rain, an important factor in ancient agriculture. It is sometimes also simply called “2 Month 2”, (Er Yue Er, 二月二) for short. Longtaitou Festival is different from Zhonghe Festival for the latter was an official festival and holiday in the Tang and Song Dynasties, and it was celebrated on the first day of the second month of the Chinese calendar.

Longtaitou Festival is celebrated around the time of Jingzhe, one of the 24 solar terms (節氣). The phrase Jing Zhe (驚蟄) has the meaning of awakening of the hibernated (implying insects). Jing (驚) is startling, and Zhe (蟄) is hibernated (insects). This is the time during which the hibernating insects begun to wake up at the beginning of early spring, which is often accompanied by the arrival of the first rains, meaning the weather is getting warm. Longtaitou Festival is an important worship ritual of wishing for good harvest in the coming months. In addition to paying respect to Dragon King, was often paid to Tu Di Gongtoo and wishes are often made at the temples for Tu Di Gong. Another ancient practice to celebrate Longtaitou Festival was to get rid of insect pests in homes via fumigation by burning various herbs with recognized insect repellent effects.

Today, Longtaitou Festival is celebrated in various ways, most of which are still identical to those practiced in the ancient times, including eating Chinese pancakes (春饼) and noodles. Perfume bags filled with the powder of ground fragrant herbs are made to be carried by women and children for good fortune, though they are no longer used as insect repellent as in ancient times. Another ancient celebration still practiced today is that Longtaitou Festival is the first day of the Taihao (太昊) temple fair that lasts until the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar. Taihao (太昊) temple fair is a celebration of ancestral deities Fuxi and Nüwa and Longtaitou Festival marking the beginning of this celebration.

There were ancient traditions of celebrating Longtaitou Festival that are no longer practiced, including:

  • Women should not practice sewing because needles could puncture the eyes of dragon.
  • Plant ashes were spread around the house, and then inside the house, and finally around the earthen jug, symbolizing inviting the dragon to provide enough rain for good harvests.
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Vernal Equinox chūn fēn 春分 Mar 21st

Buuding leaves on branch

Monday was the vernal equinox. It was a very warm sunny day here and without much wind , which has been unusual lately. Everyone seemed very happy to celebrate the first day of spring, including yours truly. In the traditional Chinese calendar the vernal equinox is one of the 24 solar terms terms.   According to this calendar, spring began back on February 3rd, but even in most of China, no one thinks February is much like spring. Although there was a warm spell, here no one was fooled and the other shoe dropped with a big snowfall and cold temperatures.

The equinoxes are marked by an equal length of day and night. Thanks to the change to Daylight Savings Time here in the US most people are too disoriented to notice. People I know, both in person and on line, report their cats are disoriented too. Strangely, no one I know has complained their dogs are bothered by this. Of course, cats are very insistent on routine. I think dogs are in general more spontaneous.

large square balancing boulder I always like to use the equinoxes as a reminder to check the balance in my life. Am I working too much or not enough? Am I slacking on things I don’t really want to do? Am I neglecting some area of my life or some relationships which need attention? It can be hard to keep life in balance these days. There are a lot of externally imposed demands, like the deadline for filing taxes next month. Most people would put that off forever if they could. In my case I find working from home sometimes leads to being less efficient. Not because I am playing video games or with the cats but because household tasks haunt my every step and can’t be gotten away from. Also, I don’t get the feedback from working with other people. We all hate useless meetings that drag on to no end but well managed meetings and brain-storming sessions can be both inspirational and productive. I think now the weather will allow me to get out, a couple of mornings a week I’ll take my laptop down to the local coffee shop, The French Press, and work there, just for a change of pace.

The three pentads for the solar term Chunfen are the first 玄鳥至, ‘The dark birds arrive’. The dark birds referred to are swallows making their northward spring migration. This is not just true in China. The swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano in California are quite famous and they are protected in the whole city. European swallows return from spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia and the Indian sub-continent. British swallows spend their winter in South Africa, returning along the west coast of Africa. European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley. All this to avoid crossing the Sahara. Chinese swallows have a much easier migratory path.

The second pentad: 雷乃發聲, ‘Thunder sounds’ refers to the onset of spring thunderstorms. We will get spring rains here but thunderstorms are less likely. The third  pentad, 始電, ‘Lightning begins’, also refers to the weather of this period. In Japan a version of this calendar is also used and I like the Japanese version of the pentads in this case. The second is 桜始開  Sakura hajimete hiraku which translates as ‘Cherry blossoms open for the first time’. This description is less repetitive and also fits what is happening where I live. Then the last pentad is 雷乃発 声 Kaminari sunawachi koeo hassu, ‘Distant thunder start to sound’, which fits the kind of rainstorms the Japanese also get at this time.

Book of Time book coverI am very interested in following the natural world according to this calendar and connecting to nature through it but I was frustrated by a lack of information. Thankfully I discovered a book was coming out on just this topic thanks to my habit of reading foreign newspapers. I found it available on the Amazon site, and I ordered it. I might have searched for ages for a vendoe, but I have to admit, Amazon is darn good at getting things to market across all kinds of barriers. It is published in China and yes, it is all in Chinese, but I am thrilled. The Book of Time, the 24 Solar Terms is by Yu Shicun. At first they estimated a two month delivery date but it arrived almost a month early, on the Equinox itself. Synchronicity. Give the subject matter I am going to be using the dictionary a lot but what a beautiful incentive to improve my Chinese!

montage of illustrations from The Book of Time by artist Lao Shu

The Telegraph 27 Feb 2017 Artist Lao Shu Credit China Watch

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Full Worm Moon March 9 17:47 UTC

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Caturday Thoughts – Spring Ahead? Only Humans Loose Sleep Over This

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March Calendar

 

 

 

 

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March Calendar

Indoors or out, no one relaxes
In March, that month of wind and taxes,
The wind will presently disappear,
The taxes last us all the year.
~Ogden Nash (1902–1971), “Thar She Blows” 

[Tax Day used to be on March 15th from 1918 through 1954, during which period Nash wrote the poem.]

 

Lawns―As warm-season turf begins to green up in your area, it’s time to think about liming your grass. If your soil is acid, you need to do this every couple of years. The best way to tell if you need lime is with a soil test, which will let you know exactly how much to apply. But if you’re not able to get your soil tested, use the general guideline of 15 to 20 pounds of lime per 100 square feet of lawn area. Pelletized lime is less messy and easier to apply than the white-powdered kind.
Azaleas―As this Southern classic comes into bloom, be sure to mark the color of each plant if you haven’t planted them by color. For maximum impact, group azaleas in masses of one color or in layers of color. It is okay to move them while they are blooming. But if you wait until they finish, they can be rearranged, pruned, and shaped for a better show next year.

Rain running down a window screenMarch began in the darkness with freezing rain. Having postponed going to Lowe’s to buy sub-flooring on Monday because of very high winds I told Terry the handyman to come later in the morning. By the time he came at eleven thirty, the temperature was above freezing and the rain had stopped temporarily. The cats had all worn themselves out playing and were all nested somewhere, sleeping. This meant I could help wrangle in the 4 x 8 sheets and not just stand by guarding the door against breakouts by adventurous felines.

After that was done Terry was going home to babysit a grandson and I went over to the vet’s office to get Moe’s prescription renewal.  The rain picked up again and it was the kind of dark damp day that puts the cats into hibernation mode. I didn’t really feel the urge to nap but I had been moving things around all morning to make room for the sub-flooring and hadn’t eaten, so I made some pasta. Even an input of carbohydrate didn’t make me nap prone but I wasn’t up for more physical labor either. Writing makes the time fly and since there was no change in the sky before I knew it it was dinner time, for the cats at least. I could hear the rain through the window, heavier than earlier in the day, so I knew it was going to be a Friday night of YouTube and popcorn. The mailman had said he was anticipating a week of it and I was not happy to hear it.

I’ve been trying to get all the wood from the branches that crashed in the ice storm around to the back yard and into a proper woodpile for months but either cold, wind, rain, snow, more ice or any combination of the same has made it a slow process. March is supposed to be the spring cleaning month. All that weather that kept me indoors has also taken i’s toll on the house exterior and the yard. Virtually every checklist I looked at for March chores started with “Clean the gutters.” The back gutter has been threatening to fall off for years and the front gutter on one side is now crushed and bent from the tree fall.

So I decided on my own version of the March spring cleaning checklist.                                  1. Clean the gutters  – Don’t bother. They need to be pulled down and replaced. Be sure to put up gutter guards and never have to muck them out again. Chore dealt with. 2. Clean the AC unit – No need, haven’t got AC. 3. Clean the house exterior – One of few  houses on the street not to have siding to pressure wash, instead this year I must scrape, prime and paint the whole exterior. There is also a lot of rotten window trim to replace and a couple of siding boards. This is no chore for March, sun and warmth for several days in a row are needed. 4. Inspect the roof – Inspect, why bother? I need a new roof and again, it’s not a March job. 5. While checking the roof, check the chimney – I had the chimney exterior seen to last summer. Inside it is clean and tidy because I couldn’t use it. Camera inspection revealed it needs a new liner, very expensive. Thankfully I have no driveway to check for cracks and fix, no patio to repair or deck or porch to clean and seal. The sidewalk is cracked but no one has complained so it is very far down on the list.

Inside spring cleaning usually involves getting the rugs and carpets cleaned, cleaning upholstered furniture and taking down the curtains and getting them cleaned and washing the windows inside and out. I am supposed to have double hung windows but they have been painted over so many times the spiders know they are safe in their corners. The outside will again have to wait for better weather. I only have one rug and two windows curtained so i will probably get that item ticked off on the checklist. And with all the cats I only have two upholstered pieces so there is really no chore. One is a chair which always has covers on it and the other is a bench which needs to be re-upholstered. Tony used it as a scratching post before he was properly trained in using the cat furniture.

Dandelion seeds being blown off the flowerhead against a blue skyFortunately there are lots of interesting days in March to serve as antidote to cleaning and maintenance. The vernal equinox or first day of spring is one I really look forward to. Easter, St Patrick’s Day, the Hindu festival of Holi and Mardi Gras all add color and celebration to the month. March also is the month of International Women’s Day and International Wildlife Day, both of which I am happy to celebrate.

 

While the bright radiant sun in centre glows,
The earth in annual motion round it goes;
At the same time on its own axis reels,
And gives us change of seasons as it wheels
.
–James Russell Lowell (1819–91)

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Xiao Nian Feb 23 (update)

Little New Year (Chinese: Xiaonian), usually a week before the lunar New Year, falls on Feb 11 this year. It is also known as the Festival of the Kitchen God, the deity who oversees the moral character of each household. The 23rd day of the year’s last lunar month marks a traditional Chinese holiday called Xiao Nian, which means Preliminary Eve, the prelude to the Lunar New Year’s Eve celebration.

Although the lunar new year starts on the first day of the first lunar month, the celebration of the big holiday, launches a week earlier in many places of China, from today on.

Xiao nian means the prelimilary eve, a prelude to the Lunar New Year’s eve celebration. It is said to be the day, the Jade Emperor, the supreme ruler of the Heaven, inspects mortals, and rewards or punishes them.

On this day, a paper effigy of Zao Wang, the Kitchen God, who is the recorder of family functions will be burned. This is done to send the Kitchen God to the Jade Emperor and report him on the household’s transgressions and good deeds. Families often offer sweet foods like candy in order to “bribe” the dieties into saying good things about the family.

Back on earth, it means, it’s time to start festival shopping. Flowers, sugar, new year pictures are all in demand.

There are numerous customs associated with honoring the Kitchen God and determining the date of Little New Year. The date of this holiday was sometimes assigned according to location, with people in northern China celebrating it on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, and people in southern China celebrating it on the twenty-fourth.

Here are six things you should know about the Little New Year, another sign of the start of spring.

1. Offer sacrifices to Kitchen God

In one of the most distinctive traditions of the Little New Year is the burning of a paper image of the Kitchen God, dispatching the god’s spirit to Heaven to report on the family’s conduct over the past year. The Kitchen God is then welcomed back by to the home through the pasting of a new paper image of him beside the stove. From this vantage point, the Kitchen God will oversee and protect the household for another year.

The offerings to the Kitchen God include pig’s head, fish, sweet bean paste, melons, fruit, boiled dumplings, barley sugar, and Guandong candy, a sticky treat made out of glutinous millet and sprouted wheat.

Most of the offerings are sweets of various varieties. It is thought that this will seal the Kitchen God’s mouth and encourage him to only say good things about the family when he ascends to heaven to make his report. The Kitchen God will be invited to sit in a sedan chair for his trip to heaven.

Consequently, the day before Little New Year, the streets and alleyways are filled with vendors selling papier-mâché sedan chairs and paper gold and silver ingots for the Kitchen God’s journey. There are even songs in his honor.

Although very few families still make offerings to the Kitchen God on this day, many traditional holiday activities are still very popular.

Between Laba Festival, on the eighth day of the last lunar month, and Little New Year, on the twenty-third day, families throughout China undertake a thorough house cleaning, sweeping out the old in preparation for the New Year.

According to Chinese folk beliefs, during the last month of the year ghosts and deities must choose either to return to Heaven or to stay on Earth. It is believed that in order to ensure the ghosts and deities’ timely departure people must thoroughly clean both their persons and their dwellings, down to every last drawer and cupboard.

Guandong candy, a sticky treat made out of glutinous millet and sprouted wheat, is a traditional snack that Chinese people eat on the Festival of the Kitchen God.

In the Little New Year, old couplets and paper-cuts from the previous Spring Festival are taken down, and new window decorations, New Year’s posters, and auspicious decorations are pasted up.

As the old Chinese saying goes, whether they’re rich or poor, people often have a haircut before the Spring Festival. The activity of taking bath and haircut is often taken on the Little New Year.

People start to stock up necessary provisions for the Spring Festival since the Little New Year. Everything needed to make offerings to the ancestors, entertain guests, and feed the family over the long holiday must be purchased in advance.

Before setting out to the market, a Spring Festival shopping list must be made, including items such as meat, poultry and eggs, fruit and vegetables, rice and flour, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, and tea, red paper, images of celestial horses and the Kitchen God. Incense and candles, snacks, new calendars, and toys must also be purchased. Not to be forgotten are new clothes for children and firecrackers to welcome in the New Year.

After Spring Festival provisions have been brought home, it’s time to make further preparations for the holiday. These preparations may include preparing meat, packing blood sausages, making tofu, steaming New Year’s sticky rice cakes, and making fried bread. This must all be done in advance, since no cooking may be done from New Year’s Eve until well into the first month of the New Year.

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