The “Nines (9’s) of Winter”, an ancient winter calendar...
The “Nines (9’s) of Winter”,
an ancient winter calendar remembered vividly in Chinese society
Aside the 24 lunisolar terms in the Chinese calendar, other ancient time period calculations are as well alive in today’s Chinese society. In summer, there is 三伏 Sanfu, three period of 10 days marking the hottest time of the year with customs, habits and also special Traditional Chinese Medicine practices to survive the heat and prepare for upcoming winter.
During wintertime in Northern China there is 数九 (Shǔ jiǔ), literally “counting nine”, marking 9 periods of 9 days starting from Winter Solstice (冬至) day (usually 21 or 22 December) 81 days forward when the farmers start to work on the lands. While Chinese New Year is called Spring Festival, for some real spring starts only after the “Nine Nines of Winter” have passed, this year at March 12.
The 9 periods record the changes in weather and nature in winter. Upcoming 3rd period of 9 days (三九, Sanjiu) this week is marked the coldest time of the year.
Nine is considered the largest number in Chinese culture, symbolizing the maximum, fullest extent or eternity. The tradition of “counting nine” started in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420-589), passing through winter and counting down to springtime on a 9x9 grid calendar registering the weather and nature conditions.
A well-known folk poem about the 9 winter periods each 9 days ;
The first and second Nines
don’t take hands out of your pockets
During Nines three and four
you can walk on ice
In the fifth and sixth Nines are to be seen
willows at the river’s edge start to sprout
The rivers thaw during the seventh Nine
In the eighth wild geese fly back to northern areas
The ninth Nine and following days, farm cattle start to work in the field