Winter is the most Yin of the seasons.
In the winter the temperature drops, it is dark outside, and people tend to spend more time indoors. Lakes freeze over and animals hibernate. It is a time of stillness and quiet. Winter is the best time to rest and reflect. When possible, go to sleep early and get up only after the warming rays of the sun are out. It is natural to feel a little bit more tired in the winter, as the body recharges before spring. In traditional Chinese thought, winter is associated with water, the color black, and the kidneys and bladder in the body. In Chinese medicine, it is said that cold enters the body through the feet, and the wind enters your body through the back of your neck. So invest in warm slippers or socks to keep your feet warm, and don’t forget your scarf!
Thousands of years ago, the Chinese divided the year into 24 solar terms called the “Twenty-Four Phases of Qi” (二十四节气). These solar terms describe the interplay of Yin and Yang in the natural world as the seasons change. Six of these solar terms take place in the winter. Here they are with this year’s date:
Start of Winter (lì dōng 立冬) – November 7
Winter comes later in southern China, but in northern China, it has already begun. Animals begin to hibernate and rivers and lakes begin to freeze. On my parents’ farm, all of the crops have been harvested and put into storage. On this day, the emperor would travel to the Temple of Heaven in order to offer sacrifices and pray for a peaceful winter.
Little Snow (xiǎo xuě 小雪) – November 22
Around this time, light snow begins to fall. However, the snow melts in the morning and does not accumulate. In my family’s village, people begin to hang meat to dry and preserve it.
Big Snow (dà xuě 大雪) – December 7
It begins to snow heavily. My parent’s house did not have heat, so on very snowy days when we did not go to school the children spent most of the day playing under the blankets. After large snowstorms, adults in my village would go out to catch wild rabbits since their tracks can be seen easily in the snow.
Winter Solstice (dōng zhì 冬至) – December 21
In the northern hemisphere, this day has the shortest day and the longest night of the year. People in the north celebrate by eating dumplings. In the south, they eat sweet, glutinous rice balls in soup. The Yin energy of winter begins to decline, and the Yang energy of summer begins to grow.
Little Cold (xiǎo hán 小寒) – January 5
The weather becomes colder, but the coldest days are yet to come.
Big Cold (dà hán 大寒) – January 20
This is the coldest time of the year. Frigid winds from Siberia blow across northern China. around this time, many Chinese people celebrate the Laba Festival (腊八节) which is a Buddhist holiday celebrating the day the Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment. For the festival, people prepare a rice porridge containing a mixture of ingredients including wheat, corn, dried dates, lotus seeds, peanuts, red beans, peas, millet, and raisins.
Through the turning of the year, the changes that happen in nature parallel changes in your body and mind. I hope that living with the seasons will help you have a healthy and happy winter!