In the traditional Chinese calendar, seasons are split into 24 different terms. Minor and major snow quickly came and went, with families changing their habits accordingly.
History of the Chinese 24 Solar Terms
In the traditional Chinese calendar, the seasons are split into 24 different terms, each with varying traditions or features. The origins of these terms were to illustrate the changes in climate and nature to help guide farmers’ agricultural choices.
The 24 solar terms are based on the sun’s position in the sky. They influence changes in clothing, food and housing.
Minor Snow (小雪) Proverbs and Climate
Minor Snow (小雪 - Xiǎoxuě) is the 20th solar term of the year. It began on November 22 and ended on December 6. This term indicates when snow usually starts in China’s northern regions as temperatures start to drop.
During Minor Snow, there are strong cold winds, so it is important to keep your head warm. There is a common saying that states, “The head is the place where all passages of the body gather."
Another proverb of this term is “虹藏不見” (Hóng cáng bùjiàn, Rainbows are concealed from view). It is believed that rainbows are made up of yin and yang energy. However, winter is governed by yin energy, therefore rainbows are not present.
It is also believed that the dormancy of winter is a result of the end of yin and yang mixing. This leads to a proverb that states “閉塞而成冬” (Bìsè ér chéng dōng, Closure and stasis create winter).
Minor Snow (小雪) Health Concerns
When Minor Snow begins, indoor heating usually leads to dry indoor air. This can cause dry, stuffy noses.
Traditional Chinese medicinal journals indicate this feeling comes from one’s “inner heat,” which causes oral problems and breakouts.
This is when your parents may tell you to drink more hot soup because you’re unhealthy. Popular choices are bean curd, cabbage or radish soup. Glutinous rice cakes are also consumed during this term.
Following the theme of quelling your “inner heat,” traditionally it is actually not advised to eat hot spicy foods in the colder months.
While this may seem counterintuitive with hot pot being so popular in the winter, eating spicy dishes increases your “inner heat” during a time when health may be faltering.
Minor Snow (小雪) Historical Foods
Many Chinese people also start preparing preserved pork during this term so it is ready in time for the Chinese Spring Festival.
Traditionally this dish was created to store meat safely during the colder winter months. But it is still a popular dish to consume during Minor Snow.
Another dish with historical roots is pickled vegetables, which was made to store vegetables in Nanjing. The region did not get vegetable shipments often, so this was a good way to store them in the winter.
Major Snow (大雪) Proverbs and the “Three Friends of Winter”
Major snow (大雪 - Dàxuě) begins on December 7 and ends on December 22. This is when temperatures drop significantly and snow may last the whole day.
A common proverb related to this term is “瑞雪兆丰年” (Ruìxuě zhào fēngnián, A timely snow promises a good harvest). The roots of this saying comes from the fact that heavy snow kills harmful pests in time for spring harvest.
Another proverb is "鶡旦不鳴" (Hé dàn bù míng, The jie-bird ceases to crow). The jie is commonly known to be quite aggressive. This saying indicates that the cold winter months cause even this bird to stop crowing.
Another characteristic of the term is the “Three Friends of Winter.” These are plants that are admired during this period because they can endure the harsh cold of winter. Wintersweet is the most popular, and the latter two are pine and bamboo.
Major Snow (大雪) Popular Food Choices
Both lamb and congee are commonly consumed during Major Snow. It is widely believed that these dishes promote blood circulation and provide protection against the cold.
Popular choices are stewed lamb soup and radish congee. Similar to preserved pork in Minor Snow, sausages are made during the Major Snow term for the Spring Festival.
Lastly, drinking water the right way is important during Major Snow. It is believed to prevent respiratory illnesses. One should drink more water, but not too much at one time. Also don’t drink cold water after exercising.
Preparing for Major Snow (大雪)
As an Asian American, I was taught some of these beliefs from my mother. However, I never understood the roots of where her traditions came from.
I was always told to wear hats to protect my head when I was younger, though I seldom listened. My mother also always prepared special soup dishes for me in the winter, saying it would keep me healthy and stay warm.
I always thought they came out of nowhere. But learning the history behind the solar terms helped me understand my own culture better.
So now that we've learned something from Minor and Major Snow traditions, let’s bundle up (don’t forget your hat!) and eat some congee.