The solar term of Xiǎoxuě (Chinese), Shōsetsu 小雪(Japanese), soseol 소설 (Korean), Vietnamese Tiểu tuyếliterally means “minor snow” and is the 20th solar term. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 240° and ends at the longitude of 255°. In the western calendar, it usually begins around 22 November and ends around 7 December.
The pentads for this solar term, which ends December 7th, make much more sense than some others. These pentads are describing the change of seasons in terms of the activity of qi. The first pentad is “‘Rainbows are concealed from view 虹藏不見”. Rainbows were considered to be the result of mixing yin and yang energy. Winter is heavily yin, there is no mixing and no one sees rainbows. In the second pentad, “The qi of the sky ascends, the qi of the earth descends.” 天氣上騰地氣下降. The qi is retreating into it’s place of origin and activity in the natural world is diminishing. The last pentad or ten day period of the term is called “‘Closure and stasis create winter 閉塞而成冬”. As mixing ends completely and the qi retreats into the earth and sky, the natural world enters a state of dormancy. This is exemplified by plants dying back to their roots,trees shedding leaves andanimals going into hibernation.
Minor Snow refers to the time when it starts to snow, mostly in China’s northern areas, and the temperature continues to drop. An ancient Chinese book about plants explains that “in Minor Snow, the weather is cold and it is going to snow; while the earth is not frozen enough and the snow is light.” The temperature of most areas in the north drops to zero degrees and below. While in the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River, the average time of the first snow is in the Minor Snow solar term. The snow is light and frozen at night, but melts quickly during the day. In Virginia we have had frozen nights but no precipitation during the ight. My friend in upstate New York had a first light snow last week.
In China, starting in Minor Snow, the wind blows from the northeast a lot. Because it is not bitter yet, many people do not yet wear hats or scarves. In fact, according to an old Chinese saying, “the head is the place where all passages of the body gather”. It is sensible to beware that one’s head can’t be frozen. But it is also true your head is a place from where you loose heat, so while your head might not be cold, it is leaking te bodyʻs heat.
During Minor Snow, indoor heating begins to work. Thus the air indoors is dry and most people might feel their nose and mouth are dry. Their inner heat energy can’t get out. Where I live in Virginia the humidity drops by half and we also get very dry indoors. Symptoms appear, including dental ulcers or more pimples on a person’s face. Some people have sinus trouble or get nosebleeds. The way to solve this problem is to drink more hot soup, such as cabbage with bean curd soup, spinach with bean curd soup and mutton with radish soup. In some areas of south China, people have glutinous rice cakes in the early 10th lunar month, which is around Minor Snow. I am partial to these but have to travel far to get them. Making them is possible but it does take time which I donʻt usualyy have.
After Minor Snow, the temperature declines sharply and the air becomes dry. It is the best time to start making preserved pork. This is because the pork will be hung to dry and so cure better in the dry air. Until the Chinese Spring Festival, it will be made and enjoyed. In the past, when storage conditions were poor, people created many ways to store food and preserved pork is one of the more popular. Thus even in the bitter winter, the whole family could enjoy meat without going out. Some even say preserved pork tastes more delicious than fresh meat but this also could be due to the fact the cut used is pork bellies, very popular in many cuisines.
For centuries, the people of Nanjing, Jiangsu province have welcomed Minor Snow with pickled vegetables cooked in different ways. In the past, due to inconvenient transportation, vegetables she old in Nanjing were few and expensive. Thus people there made pickled vegetables for the winter.
On cold days, people want to have some hot and spicy food to keep warm. Experts say that it is wise not to eat overly spicy food, since that will enhance inner heat. But certainly a bowl of hot and sour soup or a nice chili would work perfectly well.