This week marks the Longtaitou (龙抬头) Festival, the second day of the second lunar month. This means the dragon lifts its head, truly waking up the springtime after its nominal beginning at Chunjie (Spring Festival or Lunar New Year). Here in Guangdong province the late and quite cold winter weather we endured in February has thawed into more normal temperatures, with quite enviable highs around 18-19C (64-66F).
The other side of the Chinese calendar, the solar calendar, puts this week as the start of the Insects Awaken solar term (惊蛰 jinzhe), ending their winter hibernation.
Traditions surrounding the Longtaitou Festival include eating spring pancakes, honoring the Dragon King who controls the spring rains, and getting a haircut. In one ancient custom, farmers offer a container of grain on the land, outlined by circles of plant ash drawn on the ground. (Pancakes and ashes? These are familiar images this week for some of us westerners too.)
Another food to celebrate Longtaitou Festival is popcorn. In an old legend about the festival, the Dragon King was punished by the Jade Emperor for making rain against his orders, and held under a mountain unless the golden beans would blossom. Some villagers creatively recognized that dry corn popped looked like the blossoms of the golden beans, and so on the second day of the second month they sold popcorn (玉米花 yumi hua or jade-rice (corn) flower) in the streets. The Jade Emperor freed the Dragon King, who made abundant rain fall for a bountiful year’s crop.
Celebrate Longtaitou Festival throughout China by visiting villages beginning their yearly planting. Kaiping in Guangdong province and its distinctive towers are most picturesque in an annual sea of yellow rapeseed blossoms. Or visit the ancient altars in Beijing where the emperor would make sacrifices and perform rituals so that the empire would have a plentiful harvest. Or look around the old capital Xi’an or Chang’an for traces of Wu Zetian, whose claim of the throne as the only empress in Chinese history played a part in the story of the Jade Emperor and the Dragon King.
Or at home, whether in China or abroad, make popcorn! And living in Shenzhen with no microwave, we have discovered that maybe the best way to make it is actually in the wok! Heat an ounce of good peanut oil, add a couple ounces of plain dry popcorn, cover with a lid and shake until you hear the popping, one by one, then crescendo and finish. Top with a bit of melted butter and kosher salt, and you’ll never miss the microwave packets again.