BEIJING (AP) — Residents in a southern Chinese city that’s come under fire for an annual summer solstice festival in which thousands of dogs are slaughtered for food have held their feasts early to avoid attention.

Chinese state media say some residents of Yulin started gathering last weekend and eating dog meat and lychees to celebrate the longest day of the year, ahead of Saturday’s actual solstice. Reports say the residents wanted to avoid protests by animal rights activists who are angered by the practice.

Photos on state media show groups of Yulin city residents tucking into plates of meat and vegetables around dining tables strewn with lychees.

Under the Yulin tradition, eating dog and lychee and drinking liquor on the solstice is supposed to make people stay healthy during winter.