24 solar terms in Chinese calendar is determined by, not
a human ruler's will, but the pulse of Mother Nature, the
change of season. Of the 24, winter solstice, the 22nd on
the roll, is evidently the first solar term to be established
during the Spring and Autumn period about 2,500 years ago.
It has been celebrated as a major seasonal festival ever
since, for this it is also called Winter Festival (冬节) and
the Second New Year (亚岁).
As the Sun reaches the celestial longitude
of 270° at winter solstice, the occasion marks the shortest
day and longest night in a year. In other words, on the day
the backward force yin is at its peak, thus the
solar term is given the Chinese name 冬至, meaning the extremity
(极致) of the winter season. From that moment on, the worst
is over as yin is in the decline while yang returns
with light and warmth, as it is observed in The Book
of Han (《汉书》) by Ban Gu of Eastern Han Dynasty (东汉班固:
32-92 ): “冬至阳气起，君道长，故贺。”
When this natural trend is applied to the social
situations, winter solstice is traditionally viewed as a
time to bring order to chaos and build
harmony from conflict.
Historically, at this seasonal turning point,
Chinese emperor would lead his court officials to pay tribute
to Heaven and ancestors. The ritualistic processions were
escorted by armed troops and honour guards stationed around,
with colourful silk banners fluttering in the winds, and
the sound of gongs and drums solemnly proclaiming the arrival
of the yang force.
In the heyday of the winter solstice celebration
during the most intellectually advanced era in Chinese history,
the brilliant Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), a three-day holiday
was officially declared. By then the daily court meetings
were suspended, official businesses were put on hold, shops
stopped trading, students enjoyed a vacation, while literature-wise folks
sent congratulation cards (贺片) to each other, and literature-wise
and unwise folks all gave away cold protection tools as gifts
to relatives, friends and associates.
The weather condition on the day of winter
solstice was and has still been used by many as a convenient
way to forecast the states of the coming winter season.
It is believed that if a winter solstice falls
at the beginning of the eleventh lunar month, the cold season
would be very cold to the point that it could freeze cows
to death; and worse still, if it falls in the end of the
lunar month, even ghosts won't
be able to survive the assault of the icy spell. On the other
hand, if it occurs in the middle of the lunar November, a
warm winter can be expected (冬在头冻死牛，冬在中暖烘烘，冬在尾冻死鬼).
When the weather condition of Chinese
New Year Day is concerned, it allegedly works like
this: a raining winter solstice day brings a sunny new
year day, and vice versa (晴冬至，烂过年；烂冬至，晴过年). As yesterday
many areas in China, such as Suzhou, were reportedly wet,
wet and very wet, so the mood in those regions is said
to be buoyant, buoyant and very buoyant.
From the celestial circumstance of the day,
the fortune of the coming year can also be predicted, as
some guys like to have you to believe. If there are splendid
sunrise glows and/or sunset clouds, for instance, a lucky
year is supposedly assured. Mind you, according to this theory,
2008 shall be a fantastic year for Sydney. But then, it is
actually the summer
solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, so, the kangaroos
may need not to hold the breath too hard.
As always, the special food is the indispensable
part of any Chinese festivity. At winter solstice, it is
huntun and dumpling
soups rule the day in the northern and southern China
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