Lichun, the Fine Spring Days

Lichun, the Fine Spring Days
 
Every March 4th or 5th in lunar calendar is one of the 24 solar terms in traditional Chinese calendar. It's called "Spring Begins" (Lichun in Chinese), which literally means the beginning of spring. Thereafter the day usually gets longer and warmer. The solar term is divided from the viewpoint of astronomy; however, for the folks, "Spring Begins" is also the symbol of fine spring days, tillage and planting.
 
China has long been an agrarian country ever since the ancient times. As the saying goes, "A year's plan starts with spring", the Chinese have always attached great importance to sowing in the spring. Therefore, the "Spring Begins" is not only an old solar term, but also an important festival. It became a tradition for the feudal rulers in ancient China to hold a ceremony on that day which was literally called "whip the spring", so as to encourage farming and develop production.
 
The custom of "whip the clay ox" is usually practiced among Chinese folks. A clay ox is made for the activity. As an old saying goes, if women circle around the ox thrice with their child in their arms, they would be exempted from any diseases. Today it has become a pure amusement. On the very day of "Spring Begins", a senior person shall be elected in the village to symbolically whip the clay ox thrice to announce the start of farming in the year. Then the villagers will batter down the clay ox, get their share of clay and sprinkle it in their farmland to wish for a big harvest in the year. People in some places will observe the humidity and color of the clay ox to predict the result of the year. If it takes on red color and dryness, there might be little rain in the year and drought should be prevented; if it appears black, there might be plenty of rain in the year and flood should be prevented. The farmers also sprinkle paddy on the clay cattle to prevent disaster or disease, which is called "get rid of pox".
 
The seasonal foods among folks around the solar term are radish, ginger, shallot and cakes, and the custom is commonly called "bite the spring".
 
Source: http://traditions.cultural-china.com