As the first solar term,the Start of Spring was celebrated as an important festival in ancient China, and it has been regarded as the mark of the beginning of spring since the Qin Dynasty. In the Gregorian calendar, the Start of Spring usually falls around February 4th, and more often refers to the particular day when the sun travels exactly to the celestial longitude of 315°. In ancient times, the four Starts (Start of Spring, Start of Summer, Start of Autumn, and Start of Winter) reflected the special agricultural production procedures, “planting in spring, growing in summer, harvesting in autumn, storing in winter,” as well as their relationship with the local climate of the middle and lower reaches of Yellow River. As one of the four starts, start of spring is when the days become longer, the temperature and duration of sunshine are rising, and rainfall is increasing.
According to historical records, the Chinese began to celebrate the Start of Spring about 3,000 years ago. As early as the Zhou Dynasty, the ceremony was held as follows: after the king fasted for three days until the Start of Spring, he, together with his councilors and ministers, went to the suburbs eight miles east of the capital and held the ceremony to welcome the spring and to worshiping the Jumang God, praying for a good harvest in the coming year. The ceremony became increasingly complicated during the Qing Dynasty.
Before this important ceremony of welcoming the spring, a rehearsal of the ceremony, called Yanchun, was necessary to ensure that nothing went wrong. Most folk customs during the Start of Spring are related to cattle, the most important tool used during spring planting in ancient China. For example, the custom of “whipping the cattle” means dispelling the cold and encouraging spring planting; people in Shandong Province and Zhejiang Province slashed a clay cattle into pieces and scrambled for its head as a symbol of good fortune. In Hubei Province, people picked spring tea to worship cattle and purchased New Year pictures of cattle.
Special food also marks the Start of Spring celebrations, such as spring rolls/spring pastry (meat and vegetables rolled with thin cakes and eaten as a snack), radishes, and Wuxinpan(made of onions, garlic, pepper, ginger, and mustard and served as a kind of spice). Even today, spring rolls are very popular in the south of China, and eating radishes is believed to ward off dizziness in spring and clear one’s mind. In addition, people enjoyed outings after the Start of Spring to breathe the fresh air and enjoy and appreciate the blooming flowers.