April 11 is the third day of the third lunar calendar month of this year, and it is also known as “Shangsi Festival” since that day is the third day of the first ten-day period of the third lunar month. According to Chu History, the festival was a day for Han nationality to “call back the spirit of the dead” at the earliest. Ordinary people in ancient times preferred to gather on shore of rivers on that day, and a witch would hold a ritual of removing ill fortune and warding off disease to wash out impurity and get rid of malady.
As part of Jingchu, the festival on the third day of the third lunar month is also marked by customs of Jingchu: for gathering and having fun on one side, and for warding off disease and removing ill fortune on the other side. According to Jingchu Fasti: “On the third day of the third lunar month, people gather in riversides to drink for fun”, which is the custom in the early days, with obvious trace of sacrificing and feasting. Afterwards, people preferred to “pick affine cudweed, and blend with honeydew and powder to make cakes, known as ‘Longshe cake’, which can cure epidemic infectious disease” on that day.
Fire is forbidden on the third day of the third lunar month in the folk; only malt sugar or cold drinks and snacks such as barley gruel prepared in advance are eaten. However, time has changed. In modern times, the custom of eating malt sugar and barley gruel in the folk in Xiaogan is rare, but the custom of boiling eggs with capsella bursa-pastoris (known as “trigonotis peduncularis” in Xiaogan) is preserved. It is said that headache will not occur during the year if eggs boiled at that time are eaten. How is the custom passed down? It is said that Xiaogan region in ancient times belonged to part of Yunmeng lakes, it was a land flooded with water, and people there made a living by fishing. Since people were in a draught in the lake every day, they got headache often. One day, Shennong tasting all kinds of flora passed by Yunmeng lakes, and saw some people rolling on the ground due to headache. Shennong had mercy on them and looked for herbal medicine everywhere to cure headache for them. However, all medicines were ineffective. On the third day of the third lunar month, Shennong picked up some wild eggs from the mountain, dug out much trigonotis peduncularis, and boiled them to satisfy hunger of people on board. People did not feel a headache after having the eggs boiled with trigonotis peduncularis. Afterwards, it became a custom to having eggs boiled with trigonotis peduncularis on the third day of the third lunar month, and continued up to now.
“On the third day of the third lunar month, grasses, snakes and lotus root all come out.” It is a folk song in Xiaogan which describes the blossom of everything rousing up from sleeping in spring in March in Huxiang, Xiaogan. The third day of the third lunar month is a time when all kinds of flora grow thickly and green spread over the land. In all ages, urban and rural common people in Xiaogan prefer to go on a tour in groups on that day to enjoy the flowers in a spring outing, and children prefer to fly kites on that day to enjoy themselves to the full.
The double third day is also the time for the folk the Xiaogan to begin farm work. Proverbs in Xiogan describe the important of preparing farm work at that time. According to the folklore, the double third day is the birthday of the ancestor. In former times, ordinary people in Xiaogan would donate to repair temples, and good men and women would burn incense and make a vow to the god or redeem a vow to the god in the temple and conduct divination. It is known as “temple fair”, and there is also the custom of apprentices presenting gifts to masters to express their appreciation on that day in Yunmeng region.
After the founding of China, the custom of temple fair with feudalistic superstition color has gradually disappeared. But recently, temple fair was recovered, with contents focusing on some healthy activities rich in time characteristics. For example, people hold traditional opera shows or trade fairs, etc.