Late yesterday afternoon as I was returning home in a taxi, I spotted groups of people on the corner near my place huddled over small fires. This is a common sight around certain traditional Chinese festivals, particularly Spring Festival and Qing Ming Festival in April. On those occasions people burn fake money to send to their ancestors. I wrote about this custom a few years ago in a post titled Hell Money.
I was a bit confused to see the fires yesterday, however, since I couldn't recall any festival this time of year. I asked my taxi driver about it and he reminded me that yesterday (November 7) was Li Dong (立冬), the first day of winter according to the 24-cycle solar calendar that is still followed by some in China. Similar to The Farmer's Alamanac, the beginning day of each two-week cycle has a name, usually marking a seasonal change or something directly related to the planting or harvesting of crops.
Li Dong is perhaps better translated as "the establishment of winter." From now on, it can really get cold. For what it's worth, it's definitely colder in Beijing today and it snowed in Changchun yesterday!
As for the fires, my driver told me that on Li Dong people traditionally burn money and/or old clothes (not real money or clothes these days) to send to their ancestors in the afterlife so that they will be able to stay warm for the coming winter.
Take note, my friends….winter has been established!