Beginning of Winter (Lidong)
Lidong marks the beginning of winter. By this time, trees wither and insects hibernate. After Lidong, the land starts to freeze, precipitation decreases significantly, and air becomes dry gradually. Harvested grains should be stored properly and winter crops be carefully protected from freezing weather.
In ancient times, sacred ceremonies and grand banquets were held on the day of Lidong to celebrate harvest and welcome winter. As the saying goes, "Lidong is the time to feast mouth." That's to say, the painstaking labor of the year should be repaid with delicious food.
First snow: In Sichuan, places like Emei Mountain, Siguniang Mountain and Xiling Mountain welcome the first snow of the year around Lidong. And sometimes there is even a beautiful spectacle of which people can enjoy the white early snow while maple leaves are still thriving in red.
Light Snow (Xiaoxue)
During the period of Xiaoxue, the weather is not too cold and snow is not too heavy. At night, the Big Dipper leans westward, Cassiopeia rises to the high sky, and Orion appears as a symbolic constellation of winter. At this point, winter begins in Sichuan Basin. However, as cold air is screened off by mountains in the north, the temperature of Sichuan Basin is not too low.
After Xiaoxue, the temperature drops dramatically. With dry air, it's a good time to prepare sausage and bacon for the festive enjoyment during the Spring Festival.
Gingko: Around Xiaoxue, gingko leaves turn golden. In Chengdu, Mount Qingcheng, Wenshu Monastery and Sichuan University are all perfect places to appreciate gingko leaves.
Heavy Snow (Daxue)
Daxue marks the beginning of midwinter. Weather is getting colder and the possibility of snowing is higher. As the popular proverb goes, "a fall of seasonable snow gives promise of a fruitful year." Indeed, snow accumulating on the top of the winter wheat can protect it from cold and secure a good harvest. Although in winter there is not much snow in Sichuan Basin, steep descents of temperature tend to occur and cause frostbites.
"Taking tonics in winter will be strong to beat tiger in spring." This proverb says that an appropriate intake of tonic food in winter is beneficial for building a healthy and strong body. At this time, oranges and tangerines are on the market in the south while sugar-coated haw is a popular snack of the season in the north.
Flying Snow: Around Daxue, rivers are frozen. In the north, the land is locked in ice and snow is whirling, while in the south snowfall is a rare thing.
Winter Solstice (Dongzhi)
Dongzhi, also known as Dongjie or Riduan in ancient times, marks the winter solstice - the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. After that daytime extends day by day, but the temperature continues to drop. Shujiu refers to the nine-nine periods (of which nine-day counts as one period) following the Winter Solstice and the third period is the coldest.
As early as the Han Dynasty, Dongzhi was an important festival to celebrate and worship winter. In the Tang and Song dynasties, Dongzhi was the day when the Heaven and ancestors were worshiped. Nowadays, in Sichuan, it's a custom to eat mutton to fend off cold. In other regions, local customs include eating wonton, Jiaozi, long noodles, rice balls and Tangyuan.
Shoes: In ancient times, handmade shoes and socks were gifted on Dongzhi as auspicious blessings.
Green Pine: "Even under heavy snow, green pines still stand upright." In cold winter, pines are still thriving and exuberant, decorating the vast land with green vitality.
Slight Cold (Xiaohan)
Generally, the period of Xiaohan is the coldest of the year as it usually covers the third period of shujiu duration. In Sichuan Basin, winter is relatively warm. Even in the coldest January, temperature minus 0°C is unusual. However, crops still need fertilizer and protective measures against cold and freezing.
The 12th lunar month is also called La Yue. To be specific, La refers to animals hunted as offerings to ancestors. At this time, there is little farm work to do. With the Spring Festival just around the corner, people cook Laba congee to bring in festality and send it to relatives and friends. In Nanjing, it's a custom to cook vegetable-mixed rice. In Guangzhou, the custom is eating glutinous rice.
Wintersweet: This flower blooms in the coldest winter with refreshing fragrance. Many households like to decorate home with wintersweet branches, bringing a sense of vitality to the frozen winter.
Winter Bamboo Shoots: During this season, bamboo shoots are tender and taste crispy and refreshing with mild sweetness.
Great Cold (Dahan)
Dahan is the last solar term of the whole lunar year. Although it's freezing cold, spring is around the corner. Both Xiaohan and Dahan are very cold periods. Around Dahan, some regions undergo the coldest days of the year. During this time, there is not much farm work to do except protecting crops from cold and preparing for the coming spring.
Many important customs and festive activities are practiced during the period of Dahan such as worships for Land God - Tudigong and Kitchen God - Zaoshen, and don't forget the most important festival for Chinese - the Spring Festival. People are busy with cleaning rooms and shopping for festival goods. As the solar term following Dahan is Lichun, people withdraw from eating tonic food gradually. At this point, the custom popular in many regions is eating pastry and preserved fruits.
Peach wood charms and New Year paintings: Both used to be must-buy items during the shopping season of Spring Festival. In tradition, peach wood charms are hung on the gate to drive away evils while New Year paintings are pasted indoors as auspicious decorations.