ANCIENT people believed that after the second day of the second month on the Chinese lunar calendar, the rain will increase because the rain-bringing Dragon King has awakened from his winter sleep.
The day known as the Chunlong Festival, meaning Spring Dragon Festival, but the name is not as widely known as the idiomatic phrase "Er yue er, long tai tou (二月二，龙抬头)," meaning "On the second day of the second month, the dragon lifts his head."
Tomorrow (March 13) is the second day of the second month and, hence, the Spring Dragon Festival on the lunar calendar.
Virtually the only remaining custom is getting a good-luck haircut, and this is not often practiced.
There are numerous legends about the day. According to one, long ago in an unknown dynasty, central China suffered a very long drought. The Jade Emperor, the supreme deity of Taoism, ordered a young dragon to go forth and cast rain on the land, but the dragon just wanted to frolic and swim in a river. He refused to emerge and bring rain.
On the second day of the second month, a warrior challenged the dragon who had to raise his head to accept the battle. Eventually the dragon was defeated and agreed to make rain.
Another popular legend involves Empress Wu Zetian, the only empress in Chinese history. It is said that during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), after Wu usurped the throne, the Jade Emperor was furious that a female would dare to rule and punished China by withholding rain for three years. The rain-bringing dragon took pity on the humans and secretly ended the drought with life-giving rains.
On learning the truth, the emperor was enraged with the dragon, expelled him from the heavenly palace and entombed him beneath a mountain. He erected a monument with the inscription, "The dragon has sinned, hence, he shall not be freed until golden beans bloom."
On the second day of the second month one year, while farmers were sowing corn in their fields, they found kernels that looked like golden beans. People started to heat them and make popcorn, to let the golden beans bloom.
The dragon realized that people were trying to save him, so he shouted to the sky, "Free me, for the golden beans have bloomed!" The Jade Emperor agreed, the dragon rose from the mountain and returned to the heavenly palace.
The most famous tradition on this day is to have a haircut. There are many legends about the origin of the custom.
Some people believed that going to the barber on the second day of the second month would get rid of bad luck, while others believed it was very bad luck to get a haircut during the first month of the lunar calendar. This applied to both boys and girls.
There's an old saying, "Cut your hair in the first month and your uncle will die." Nowadays most people pay no attention to the tradition but seniors say in the old days patrons would line up outside barber shops on the Chunlong Festival.
Food with dragon names
"On the contrary, nowadays for several weeks after Spring Festival, barbers could take a long holiday," says 80-year-old Yu Jiaying.
Now his family only takes small boys to the barber that day, in hopes that a haircut will bring good luck in the new year. There's no special food, except popcorn. But the basic noodles, dumplings, spring rolls and popcorn are all given dragon names. Noodles are called dragon's beard (long xu 龙须); dumpling are dragon's ears (long er 龙耳); spring rolls are dragon's scales (long lin 龙鳞); popcorn is called dragon seeds (long zi 龙子).
Meanwhile in Wenzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, people usually eat steamed rice with mustard leaves.
Legend has it that during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong traveled incognito to Wenzhou. On the second day of the second month, he was hungry and stopped at the home of an impoverished intellectual. The man and his wife didn't have enough rice for three people, so they cooked mustard leaves from their garden and steamed them together with rice.
The emperor, who had been used to delicacies of every kind, found the rice delicious and praised it.
Wenzhou people made it a custom to eat rice with mustard leaves on the Spring Dragon Festival.
China's major festivals are generally well known, but there are thousands of interesting "days" and calendar customs that originated in ancient times. Some are still practiced, and in this occasional column, we look at some of the more colorful and their legends.