What is the Start of Winter/Winter Begins？
The Start of Winter (li dong), the 19th Solar Term, is on November 7 or 8 every year. In ancient times, the Chinese people took the Start of Winter to be the beginning of the winter. According to the book of 24 solar terms, “Li means the beginning,” and “Dong is the end, the collection of everything.” This means that the autumn crops have been harvested and animals have hidden to prepare for hibernation.
As with Autumn Begins, the ancient people use the solar term to forecast the weather of the coming winter, such as “sunny on Start of Winter Day, cold in the winter; cloudy on Start of Winter Day, warm in the winter.” On that day, the ancient emperor would lead his officials to the northern suburbs and perform the ceremony of “welcoming the winter.”
The ancient people divided the Start of Winter into three periods: in the first period, the water turns to ice; in the second, the earth is frozen; and in the third, “the pheasants turn into clams.” This is because after Start of Winter Day, the pheasant and other birds are hard to see, while on the seaside, there are some clams whose lines and colors are just like that of the pheasant. Thus, the ancient people believed that birds turned into clams after Start of Winter Day.
In the Start of Winter, the sunlight reaches longitude 225°. The north hemisphere receives less and less solar radiation. Because the surface of the earth has some storage of summer heat, it is not too cold. Even in the sunny days without wind, the weather is very pleasant, and it is beneficial to the growth of the winter crops. The cold air, however, is strong. Its frequent movement toward the south causes strong winds, a drop in temperature and rain and snow.
The Chinese solar term is the carrier of agricultural customs. Though the history has passed, the culture still remains. The customs, though have no practical meaning any more, add interest to life. The four beginnings of season were important festivals in ancient times. On that day, the emperor would lead his officials to the northern suburbs to set up an altar at which to sacrifice. Nowadays, people also celebrate on Start of Winter Day. Most people in the northern areas have dumplings and in the south area, people have chicken, duck or fish.