Autumn Equinox – Qiūfēn 秋分
The 24 Solar Terms or Jiéqì:
In ancient China, 24 solar terms, or Jiéqì, existed to guide farmers in agricultural affairs and farming activities throughout the year—each of these periods lasting approximately 15 days. The Jiéqì are based on the sun’s position in the zodiac and reflect changes in climate, agricultural production, natural phenomena and other aspects of living. This is often referred to as ‘the farmer’s calendar’.
On September 21st, we entered the period of Qiūfēn, also known as ‘Autumn Equinox’. Qiūfēn is the sixteenth solar term, which occurs annually around September 21st. As the days grow shorter and the air turns crisper, nature prepares for a season of change. Qiūfēn, a pivotal point in the transition between summer and winter, holds special significance in Chinese culture, particularly in the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It marks the point at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, resulting in roughly equal lengths of day and night. It signifies the onset of Autumn and symbolises a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang energies.
Lifestyle Advice for Autumn Equinox:
- Nourish the Lungs: In TCM, the Lung organ system is closely linked to the autumn season. Therefore, it is recommended that one consume foods rich in white and pungent flavours, such as garlic, onions, and ginger, to support lung health. In addition, one can incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, and cauliflower into one’s diet.
- Stay Active: While the weather may be cooling, it’s essential to maintain physical activity to keep Qi (energy) flowing smoothly. Engage in outdoor activities like brisk walking, hiking, or practising Tai Chi to help balance your energy.
- Dress Appropriately: As the temperature drops, dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions. This helps prevent exposure to cold winds, which can weaken the body’s defences and lead to the onset of illness.
- Balance Rest and Activity: Embrace the natural rhythm of the season by ensuring adequate rest and sleep. Balancing activity with relaxation is crucial to harmonise your body with the changing energy of Autumn.
- Emotional Wellness: Autumn is a time of reflection and letting go, much like the falling leaves. Embrace this opportunity to release emotional baggage, practice mindfulness, and engage in activities like meditation to maintain emotional equilibrium.
Traditions & Customs for Autumn Equinox:
Several traditions and customs are observed in China during Qiūfēn. These traditions are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and are often tied to the agricultural and philosophical significance of this season. Some notable practices are as follows:
- Chongyang Festival (Double Ninth Festival): while not directly related to Qiūfēn, the Chongyang Festival falls on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, usually close to the equinox. This festival, also known as Senior Citizens’ Day, is a time to honour and spend with elderly family members. People often climb mountains during this festival, believing it brings good health and longevity.
- Eating Chongyang Cake: it is common to eat a special cake called “Chongyang Cake” or “Double Ninth Cake” made with various ingredients like rice flour, dates, and nuts. This cake is believed to have the power to ward off evil and promote good health.
- Enjoying Autumn Scenery: many people take this opportunity to go outdoors and enjoy the beautiful autumn scenery. Nature walks, picnics and park visits are popular activities during this time.
- Worshiping Ancestors: some families use this time to visit ancestral gravesites and pay respects to their ancestors by cleaning the graves and offering food and incense. This is a way to ensure the well-being and protection of the family.
- Drinking Chrysanthemum Tea: chrysanthemum tea is a popular beverage during Qiūfēn. It’s believed to have cooling properties and help balance the body’s energies as the weather transitions from warm to cool.
- Folklore and Poetry: Qiūfēn has inspired countless poems and folklore in Chinese culture. People often recite or read poems that capture the essence of the season and the beauty of nature’s transformations.
- Farming Activities: in rural areas, farmers may use Qiūfēn as a reference point for certain agricultural activities, such as harvesting crops and preparing for the winter season.
These traditions vary in different regions of China, and not everyone observes them in the same way. However, they all reflect the cultural and seasonal significance of Qiūfēn in Chinese society.
Food Recommendations for Autumn Equinox:
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), foods you should eat during Autumn help balance your body’s energy, support the organs associated with this season, and adapt to the changing weather. Here are some common foods recommended for Autumn:
- Root Vegetables: Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and radishes are grounding. They can help stabilise your energy during the transition from the active (yang) summer to the more passive (yin) autumn.
- Pears and Apples: These fruits are in season during the fall and are believed to moisten the lungs, making them beneficial for respiratory health. They also have a slightly cooling nature.
- Nuts: Chestnuts and walnuts are often enjoyed in Autumn. They are considered warming and can provide energy and nourishment.
- Mushrooms: Various types of mushrooms are in season during Autumn. They are believed to support the immune system and overall vitality. Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, are highly regarded for their health benefits.
- Garlic and Onions: These pungent vegetables can help protect against seasonal illnesses and are known for their ability to boost the immune system.
- Ginger: Ginger has a warming quality and is excellent for digestion. It can help with the transition from cold summer foods to warmer autumn fare.
- Cabbage and Brassicas: Vegetables like cabbage, kale, and broccoli are hearty and can be harvested well into the Autumn. They provide essential vitamins and minerals.
- Warm Soups and Stews: As the weather cools, warm, nourishing soups and stews are recommended. These can include ingredients like squash, lentils, and various vegetables.
- Herbs and Spices: Incorporate warming herbs and spices into your cooking, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. These can help balance the body’s energy and add flavour to your dishes.
- Teas: Herbal teas like chrysanthemum and ginger tea are popular choices during Autumn. They can help with digestion, warmth, and relaxation.
Remember that these dietary recommendations are general guidelines, and individual needs may vary. It’s essential to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian if you have specific dietary concerns or restrictions.
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