Both the western calendar and the tradition Chinese calendar mark the vernal equinox. In the west it is considered the first day of spring. In the Chinese calendar spring began weeks ago. Chūnfēn (Chinese), Shunbun (Japanese), Chunbun (Korean), or Xuân phân (Vietnamese) is the 4th solar term. The three pentads for the solar term Chunfen are first 玄鳥至, “The dark birds arrive”. The dark birds are returning migrating swallows.
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 is雷乃發聲, “Thunder sounds” refering 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.
The Japanese pentads for chūn fēn are firstly, Suzume hajimete sukuu (雀始巣), “Sparrows begin building a nest”, then Sakura hajimete hiraku 桜始開, “Cherry blossoms open for the first time”. This description is less repetitive than the Chinese pentads and mirrors what is happening where I live. The last pentad is Kaminari sunawachi koeo hassu雷乃発 声, “Distant thunder starts to sound”, and is an accurate description of the kind of rainstorms the Japanese also get at this time.
The Spring Equinox signals the equal length of the day and night time. On the day of the Spring Equinox, sun is directly above the equator. After the equinox, the sun moves northwards, resulting in gradually longer day time in the Northern Hemisphere and longer night in the Southern Hemisphere.
Standing an egg upright is a popular game across the country during the Spring Equinox. It is an old custom that dates back to 4,000 years ago. People practice this tradition to celebrate the coming of spring. It is believed that if someone can make the egg stand, he will have good luck in the future. Some believe that the Spring Equinox is the best time to practice this game because on this day the axis of the earth is relatively balanced against the orbital plane of the earth’s rotation around the sun, which makes it easier to erect an egg.
Eating spring vegetables during the Spring Equinox is a commonly practiced custom in many regions of China. ‘Spring vegetables’ refers to seasonal vegetables that differ from place to place. The ancient teachings in the Chinese classic,Huangdi Neijing, suggests that people eat seasonal foods to help preserve health and bring good luck. Also, in many parts of China, especially in the north, there will not have been anything but dried, pickled or otherwise preserved vegetables all winter and the spring greens help to offset nutritional deficiences.
Sacrifice to the Sun god
During the Spring Equinox, an old tradition of people in Bejingal practiced by Beijing locals is offering sacrifices to the Sun god. This tradition is the Zhonghe Festival and Sun Cake, a round cake made from wheat and sugar, serves as the main offering. In the Ming Dynasty (1368－1644) and Qing Dynasty (1636—1912), the imperial family held this ritual in Ritan park every Spring Equinox.
Reward farm cattle
This practice is popular in the southern area of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. As the Spring Equinox comes, farm work starts and both the farmers and the cattle start to become busy. Farmers will reward cattle with sticky rice balls to express their gratefulness. Meanwhile, people will also make sacrifice to birds, to thank them for bringing signals for farm work and to ask them not to eat grains later in the year.
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.
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.