When does spring begin?

According to my calendar, today in China was Huā zhāo jié (花朝节) – literally meaning “flower morning festival“.   Today is the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month – in other words, the middle of the second month, the second full moon of the lunar year.

Huā zhāo jié is “when flowers are going to blossom”, and “the time to have an outing in spring.  People in China take flowers as the symbol of girls, so Huazhao Festival is always considered as a girls’ festival.”  According to Baidu, Huā zhāo jié is “a traditional Han festival“, popular in many parts of China.  During the festival people go to the suburbs to see flowers, a custom known as “踏青” (tà qīng) – literally “tread the green“.  Girls cut five colours of paper and stick them on flower or tree branches.  This is called “赏红” (shǎng hóng) – “appreciate red“.  “On this day, girls often go out to appreciate flowers, and decorate the flowering branches with colourful papers.” 

Now, although my calendar says that Huā zhāo jié is on the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month, Baidu also says that it may be on the 2nd, 12th or 25th day, depending on region.  The reason they suggest for this difference is because the time that flowers bloom varies from place to place – China is, after all, a huge country.  This explains why I’ve already been seeing pictures of the festival this year from March 14th (2nd day of the 2nd lunar month) in places such as Fuzhou, and March 22nd (10th!? day of the 2nd lunar month) in Yunnan, and so on.

Now, at least one description of Huā zhāo jié says that it is “actually the beginning of spring“.
This got me thinking, and has added to something I have already been a bit puzzled about:  when does spring begin?
Or, perhaps more to the point, when does Chinese culture say spring begins?

In the West (and in fact many countries), the spring / vernal equinox is the official start of spring.  I can sort of understand this from an astronomical point of view – after this date the Earth’s inclination towards the sun is such that the sun is above the equator.  Perhaps it has been chosen to avoid confusion.   But I have always found this a bit unsatisfactory, and even weird, for a couple of reasons:  Firstly because by that time, the weather (generally) has already been getting better, flowers started to bloom, and some birds or animals already have had young.  I would hardly say it is still winter.  Secondly I would expect the longest day (which is around the 20th/21st June) to be the middle of summer, not the beginning of summer.  Allowing for three months per season, that would mean the spring equinox should be the middle of spring.

For these reasons, I felt that the Chinese traditional calendar seemed much more sensible when it comes to seasons.   Finding these things out this year has left me somewhat confused.

I’ve already mentioned the Spring Festival (春节 Chūn jié).  The first full moon is the Lantern festival (元宵节 Yuán xiāo jié) marking the end of the Spring Festival (春节 Chūn jié).

China’s traditional calendar is not only lunar, it is lunisolar.  The year is divided into 24 solar terms.  The first term is called 立春 (Lì chūn) which means “beginning of spring“.  This falls around the 4th or 5th of February, and Chūn jié can fall before or after Lì chūn. 

Having celebrated the start of spring over a month and a half ago, surely we must at least be in the middle of it by now?

春分 (Chūn fēn), the Spring Equinox, is the 4th solar term.  I was surprised this year to read a description of this somewhere (I forget where) as “the beginning of spring“.  True that it is counted as the beginning of spring in the West, as already mentioned, but surely it cannot be in China?

And so, to find out this week that Huā zhāo jié might also be considered the start of spring (and that could be anywhere up to nearly the end of the second lunar month of the year), really does just add to the puzzle.

Finally, when I asked a Chinese friend about it, she suggested that there is another measure for any area in China, which is when the temperature has been above 10 degrees Centigrade for 5 consecutive days.  This throws all dates out of the window, and even suggests that parts of southern China might not even have a winter, while for northern parts “spring” might not arrive until May or June!

It looks like I’m not going to find the answer to this question.
It seems spring is always “just starting” and never arrives?
At this rate, spring will still be on the way when we reach 立夏 (Lì xià) – the “start of summer” – the 7th solar term, which begins on May 4th or 5th.

When do you think spring begins?
Feel free to let me know in the comments, say why you think it, and optionally say where you are from.

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