As a solar term, Spring Commences had already entered people’s lives in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). At that time, there were eight solar terms. According to some experts, the 24 solar terms were used for the first time in books during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), when the Start of Spring was set as the Spring Festival. In 1913, the first day of the first month of the lunar year was mandated as the Spring Festival.
People in China began holding a special ceremony on the first day of Spring Commences about 3,000 years ago. They made sacrifices to Gou Mang, the god of Spring, who is in charge of agriculture. By the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), greeting spring had become an important folk activity. In Beijing, government officials welcomed spring in the wild field near the Dongzhimen, the east gate of Beijing. Since spring does not actually come anywhere in China at this time except the extreme south it is curious that this was the time of ceremony.
In Chinese tradition it is believed when spring comes, just as the natural world is revitalizing, human bodies also start a new round of growth from this day. People should open the windows more frequently to allow the air to circulate and take more exercise to enhance their immunity. It is also the best time to protect one’s liver with liver tonics, since according to traditional Chinese medicine, spring is the time for raising the liver. Use of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients such as Chinese wolfberry, turmeric root, the root of red-rooted salvia, Corydalis tuber is common. It is recommended to eat foods like Chinese date, fermented soya beans, and spring onion. Garlic, caraway and peanut are also all good choices. To celebrate the actual day, in many parts of China, people observe the custom of “biting the spring” on Spring Commences. They eat spring pancakes, spring rolls, or at the very least a few mouthfuls of carrots.
In China, it is said that the egg can be set upright on the first day of the Spring Commences, on Spring Equinox day and Autumn Equinox day. It is believed that if someone can make the egg stand on the first day of Spring Commences, he will have good luck in the future. According to astronomers and physicists, setting the egg upright has nothing to do with time, but with mechanics. The most important thing is to shift the egg’s center of gravity to the lowest part of the egg. In this way, the trick is holding the egg until the yolk sinks as much as possible. For this, people should choose an egg about 4 or 5 days old, whose yolk is inclined to sink down.
In Shaanxi province Spring Commences is the occasion of many colorful customs. The local government hires some skilled artisans and gathers them to build the frame of an ox out of bamboo strips and the legs with wood. Then they paste over the frame with paper and paint it to complete the image. It is said that if more red and yellow paper is used, then there will be a good harvest that year; if black paper is pasted, then the year will be poor. Knowing this, who would paste black paper? When the paper ox is ready, there is a ritual to paint the eyes. In the old days the people would set up an altar for it and worship it. Wearing fabric swallows is a custom in some regions in Shaanxi. Every Start of Spring, people like to wear a swallow made of colorful silk on their chests. The custom originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The swallow is a harbinger of spring and a symbol of prosperity and happiness.
There are also customs not exclusive to Shaanxi. Posting calligraphy and paintings on one’s door in the spring first appeared during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). People would do so to welcome spring and pray for good luck on the first day of Start of Spring. Plums blossom from the 12th lunar month to the second month of the next year. The plum blossom, as it fights against the cold, is most highly regarded. In China, the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum are praised as the four gentlemen of Chinese flowers. Spring is the best season for kite-flying. A traditional folk activity, it has a history of more than 2,000 years. It can help build one’s health and prevent diseases. It also has the effect of promoting blood circulation and speeding up metabolism. A breath of fresh air outside is good makes you feel revitalized and kite flying is fun. But whether kites are flown in China or anywhere depends more on the actual weather than than the day of the solar term.