Major cold or dàhán in Chinese, daikan in Japanese, 대한 (daehan) in Korean and đại hàn in Vietnamese is the 24th solar term. During Major Cold as the cold currents from the north move southward, the weather becomes continuously cold. Although modern meteorological observation shows that the weather during Major Cold is not colder than Minor Cold in all parts of China, the lowest temperatures of the year still occur in the Major Cold period in some coastal areas. In working with the solar terms and trying to learn more about the pentads, I’ve found only basic information in English. Gradually I have more sources in Chinese but sometimes this leads me to more wondering. The name sayings for the pentads for Major Cold seem to have several versions in Chinese, using different characters. For the first pentad some say hen pheasants are brooding and others it is chickens and some say hatching which is not the same as brooding. Versions of the second pentad refer to the activities of birds of prey; sometimes vultures, sometime eagles and sometimes hawks. And the third pentad is usually some version of streams are all frozen or ice is thickest.
Regardless of whether it’s the coldest, or merely very cold, during Major Cold, people in Beijing have a custom of eating “dispelling cold cake”, a kind of rice cake. This kind of “dispelling cold cake” contains sticky rice as it’s main ingredient and walnut, longan and red dates, all warming in winter. The homophonic words in Chinese for “dispelling cold cake” and “higher year by year” symbolic of good luck and continual promotion.
In Anqing of Anhui province, people traditionally eat fried spring rolls during Major Cold. The stuffing inside the spring roll contains meat or vegetables and the flavor can be salty or sweet. In Nanjing of Jiangsu province citizens enjoy stewed soup during Major Cold, which certainly is a warming food. They always stew an aged hen in the soup with ginseng, matrimony vine and black fungus.
Major Cold always coincides with the end of the year in lunar calendar. In some areas of China, people always fall over each other in eagerness to buy sesame straw during this period because of the old saying, “Rise joint by joint like sesame flowers on the stem.” This saying is used to describe either ever-rising living standards or making steady progress in thought, studies or skills.
An important day during Major Cold is the La Ba Festival, when people usually eat La Ba porridge, a porridge with eight kinds of mixed grains and corn. The festival is celebrated on the eighth (ba 八) day of the 12th month (la yue 腊月) and is one of the most important traditional festivals in Chinese culture. It is also a prelude to the Chinese Lunar New Year. This year the La Ba Festival falls on Jan 27. The festival was originally a day of thanks for a good harvest and sacrifice to ancestors. It also marks the day on which Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, reached enlightenment and became immortal.
There is a saying that goes, “Dripping water freezes during Minor and Major Cold.” In various regions of China, Major Cold is the perfect time for winter sports such as skiing, ice skating and sledding. This is certainly not confined to China, it’s the perfect time for winter sports in many part of the world. And it is a good idea to dress well and get out in the fresh air periodically, since winter is often spent indoors in hot stuffy rooms which are not very healthy and in close contact with many people who also may or may not be healthy. After all, winter is “cold season” in a way not connected to the temperature outside. A little time in winter sports in the fresh air will also raise your appetite for some of those delicious warming winter foods and help keep you healthy fr the New Year.