夏 至 & 仲 夏
Xiazhi (Summer Solstice) and Midsummer
Midsummer festival of Sweden will be celebrated on June 20 this year, followed by Xiazhi (summer solstice), one of Chinese 24 solar terms, on June 21. A summer celebration commences in China and Sweden at almost the same time. As Dongzhi (winter solstice) marks the shortest day, Xiazhi marks the longest; these two solar terms coincide with the two most important festivals in Sweden as well: Midsummer and Christmas.
Traditions of Xiazhi
Traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Xiazhi, the 10th solar term of the year, and the fourth of summer, marks the time when the sun ultimately shines perpendicular to the Tropic of Cancer. Wheat becomes ripe around Xiazhi in China. Therefore, since Zhou Dynasty, ancient Chinese emperors have worshiped Earth on that day to wish for peace and abundant harvest. Besides the festivals, Xiazhi was once a public holiday. Before Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), people had a one-day holiday; and in Song Dynasty (960-1279), it was recorded that officials could have three days off during Xiazhi, just as farmers in the Nordic countries can have a break after the sowing is finished around Midsummer. For many people, Midsummer still signifies the beginning of summer vacation.
What people traditionally eat at Xiazhi differs between areas, but different kinds of noodles made of the newly harvested wheat is the most common in China. As the classic saying goes: the winter solstice is a time for dumplings and the summer solstice is a time for noodles. Another kind of food which plays a vital role in Xiazhi is bitter gourd (Kugua). Traditional Chinese medicine believes that bitter food has heat-clearing and detoxifying effect. In Wuxi, people eat rice porridge in the morning and wontons at noon, representing the harmony of chaos; in Nanjing, children would eat steamed pea flour cake on the doorsill, which is said to help drive away all forms of sickness. In Liao Dynasty, women often gave colored fans and sachets filled with fragrant herbs to each other as a way to celebrate Xiazhi.
Now, let’s follow the camera to explore the white night and enjoy local people’s hospitality in Beihong village, Mohe, Heilongjiang province, which is China’s most northern point and is on almost the same latitude as Sweden’s southernmost tip.
Traditions of Midsummer
Historically, Midsummer, which was originally celebrated in whole Northern Europe, was a worship of growth and fertility of the spring. According to traditional belief, Midsummer night, being the brightest night of the year, is filled with magic and supernatural beings, just like Christmas Eve. Plants with magical powers and the supernatural creatures are assumed to be particularly active. Therefore this night is advantageous for gathering medicinal plants but also forecasting the future. One way of looking into the future, a still living custom, is to put seven or nine different kinds of flowers under the cushion on Midsummer night – in the dream you will then see your future life partner. It is also believed that drinking from natural springs can bring health and good fortune; and Midsummer dew is gathered to cure sickness.
One of the earliest records on Midsummer is History of the Nordic Peoples by Swedish bishop Olaus Magnus in 1555, which tells that Midsummer celebration was a Christian church feast dedicated to John the Baptist. Others claim though that summer solstice ceremonies have pre-Christian origin more linked to worship of nature rather than a saint. Originally, people gathered around big bonfires, a tradition that still remains in Denmark, Norway and parts of Finland. Not until medieval times was the may pole (originated from the word maja which means decoration with leaves) introduced in Sweden from Germany – a custom which has remained in Sweden and parts of Finland until today. A typical Midsummer menu features different kinds of pickled herring, grilled salmon, boiled potatoes with fresh dill, soured cream and chives, and the first strawberries of summer with cream for dessert. The traditional accompaniment is a cold beer and schnapps. Every time the glasses are refilled, singing breaks out anew. Wouldn’t that be a proper way of midsummer celebration!
Tik Tok: cccinstockholm
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