March 20 is the start of Spring Equinox: 5 things about the Chinese solar term

 The Spring Equinox is the fourth Chinese solar term of the year. It starts on March 20 and ends on April 3 this year.
The Spring Equinox is the fourth Chinese solar term of the year. It starts on March 20 and ends on April 3 this year. PHOTO: CHINADAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides a year into 24 solar terms. The Spring Equinox, the fourth term of the year, starts on March 20 and ends on April 3 this year.

The Spring Equinox signals the equal length of the day and night time. On the day of the Spring Equinox, the 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.

Here are five things you may not know about the Spring Equinox.

1. Swallows fly north

The ancient Chinese people divided the 15 days of the Spring Equinox into three "hou's" or five-day parts. As the old saying goes, swallows fly back to the North in the first hou; thunder cracks the sky in the second hou and lightning occurs frequently in the third hou, which vividly reveals features of the climate during the Spring Equinox.

2. Egg-standing games

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 practise this tradition to celebrate the coming of spring. It is believed that if a person who can make the egg stand will have good luck in the future.

Some believe that the Spring Equinox is the best time to practise 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.

3. Eating spring vegetables

Eating spring vegetables during the Spring Equinox is a commonly practised custom in many regions of China. Spring vegetables are seasonal vegetables eaten in Spring 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.

4. Sacrifices to the sun god

During the Spring Equinox, an old traditional practice by Beijing locals is offering sacrifices to the sun god. This tradition is called "Zhonghe Festival". The "Sun Cake", a round cake made from wheat and sugar, serves as the main offering.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), the imperial family held this ritual in Ritan park every Spring Equinox. The Ritan park gradually became a common place for public recreation. The practice still exists among the public today.

5. Rewarding 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 offer sacrifices to birds, to thank them for bringing signals for farm work and to ask them not to eat grains later in the year.