The traditional East Asian calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms (節氣). Lìqiū (Chinese and Japanese: 立秋; Korean: 입추(S)/립추(N); Vietnamese: Lập thu; literally: “start of autumn”) is the 13th solar term. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 135° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 150°. The term more often refers in particular to the day when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 135°. In the western Gregorian calendar, it usually begins around August 7 and ends around August 23. Liqiu signifies the beginning of autumn in East Asian cultures.
There are pentad divisions for Autumn Commences. The first is “Comes the cool wind”. It is at Autumn Commences that northern winds start to prevail in many parts of China, bringing coolness and of setting the heat. The second pentad is “White dew falls”. During this period of time, it is still very hot in daytime but not at night. The difference in temperature between the day and the now cooler nights means dew will form on the surface of grass and plants in the morning. The third pentad is “Cicadas are crying.” With sufficient food and cooling evenings, cicadas are very nosy around this time. Some say they are calling that cooler weather is coming. I find that the mornings they are singing turn out to be quite hot. When I was very young, my grandfather told me they were crying for more heat and we would get a hot day because nature always gave them what they asked. For years I called them “More Heats”.
It will be a while yet before true autumn reigns either where I live or in most parts of China. August is know for days equally as hot as July. It will be at least three months before a walk in the woods will be invigorating. Still, we have begun to have a few evenings when the cats felt comfortable enough to cool up for a cuddle and spend the night, especially Mi Sun, who has a triple coat.
Deny if you will, global warming is real whatever the cause and contributing factors and is still getting worse. Changing solar terms are not the change we need. If it is cooler I can take out cuddly cat beds and put on a sweater but i can’t strip off and run my errands naked if it goes in the opposite direction. Just running a de-humidifier a few years back ran my electric bill up as high as my winter heat bill.
In China Autummn Commences of course has food customs. In Shandong province, people make dumplings for Autumn Commences and call it “Eating the Autumn”. On the day of Start of Autumn, senior members of the family will stand in the middle of the hall, and pray for good harvest, then the family will have dumplings. Starting from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) people in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, have eaten red beans on Start of Autumn day. They take seven to 14 little beans, swallowing them with well water. When swallowing the beans, one must face west, it is said, to prevent dysentery during the autumn.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), people would put gourds outside for a day before the Start of Autumn, and eat them on Start of Autumn day to drive off the summer heat. Today people in Tianjing still keep this custom, believing that eating melons such as towel gourd, white gourd and bitter gourd can prevent diarrhea in autumn and the coming winter and spring.
As for me, I have not been eating much, drinking a lot of water and sticking to fruit, especially mangoes and bananas to keep my potassium up. I am really happy to see Autumn Commences arrive, knowing that, in spite of the heat now, relief is on it’s way.