Traditional Chinese festivals are perhaps one of the most important parts of Chinese culture and the country’s history. Being culturally diverse and economically empowered, China is perhaps one of the countries to have several culture-based festivals, full of glamor and are an absolute joy to be a part of or a great show to watch on TV. While these festivals are a part of their ancient times, almost all of them are based on the lunar calendar and are somehow linked to various myths, religious devotions, and superstitions that bind the people.
One of the most popular Chinese festivals is the Qingming Festival which has been celebrated for centuries. Let’s learn more about it.
When is Qingming Festival?
The Qingming Festival is also known as the Tomb-sweeping day or the Pure Brightness Festival. It is celebrated on the 4th or 5th day of April in the Gregorian calendar, the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. There are times when it could land on the 6th of April, depending on the days of that specific year.
It is also known as the Ancestors’ Day or the Chinese Memorial Day, and it is among the Chinese 24 Solar Terms. From the 4th or 5th of April, temperatures in the country begin to rise, and rainfall gradually increases. When this happens, the Chinese know that it is time to plow and sow in the spring. For this reason, the festival is directly associated with agricultural matters. Even so, it is not necessarily a seasonal symbol but a day to pay respect to the dead, pay attention to other activities, and take time to embark on a Spring outing.
It has been observed by the Han Chinese, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Macau, for over 2500 years. Even so, there are significant changes in how it is celebrated over the years.
How to celebrate Qingming Festival?
The Qingming Festival involves several activities such as taking a spring outing, tomb-sweeping, and flying kites. There are also other activities such as riding on swings and wearing willow branches on the head. While it is often filled with nostalgia and sadness, there are always multiple instances of infinite joy throughout the day.
The most important custom in the Qingming Festival is tomb sweeping. The Chinese pay respect to the dead person, then clean their tomb as a way of remembering them and showing that their spirit lives on. They take time to clear out any weeds that have grown around the tomb and add fresh soil to show that they care for their loved ones. Thereafter, they offer the dead person’s favorite food, and wine as a sacrifice. They burn this together with papers that resemble money. They do this to affirm that the dead person does not lack any food or riches in the afterlife.
While this is the main practice, times have changed and now, cremation has taken over burying. So, if the person was cremated, all the Chinese do is offer flowers to the revolutionary martyrs and relatives. They also take time to pray for them.
While commemorating the dead brings a wave of sad emotion in everyone, the Chinese couple the festival with a time when people can enjoy themselves. During March, the grass is greener, almost all flowers in the country blossom, and the sun shines brighter than ever. So, in preparation for the Tomb-sweeping day, everyone goes out to appreciate the beautiful parts of nature. This custom started during the reign of the Tang dynasty and still exists up to date.
Also, the Chinese celebrate the Qingming Festival by flying kites during the day and in the evening. They tie little lanterns to the kite so that when the kite is flying in the sky, they look like twinkling stars at night. The special part of this custom is that people gather to cut the string and allow the kite to fly freely into the sky as a sign of letting go. They believe that by doing this, they are inviting good luck in their lives and can potentially eliminate diseases.
Qingming Festival Food
During the Qingming Festival, people only eat food once they have already offered food to the ancestors. The day before the Tomb Sweeping Day is the traditional Chinese Cold Food Day. Eventually, the two festivals have become one. On Cold Food Day, people avoid cooking using fire and prefer to eat cold food. People do this on the Qingming Festival day as well.
Even so, different countries have different foods set aside for the Qingming Festival. The primary Qingming festival foods are peach blossom porridge with rice in it, Qingming snails, sweet green rice balls, crispy cakes, and eggs. All these delicacies are cooked a day or two before the festival so that people can eat while cold or recreate it during the holiday.
History of Qingming Festival
Most historical documents record that the Qingming Festival was first held to pay homage to a loyal man whose name was Jie Zitui, living in the Spring and Autumn Period. He cut a part of meat from his leg to rescue his hungry master when he was exiled when the crown was endangered. When the master/lord returned to his position about 19 years later, he forgot about his loyal servant, Jie. However, as time went by, he chose to reward his servant.
At the time, Jie and his mother went up to a mountain and blocked themself there. To find Jie, the lord ordered his other servants to set the mountain on fire. His efforts were in vain, and a few days later, he found Jie and his mother died. To commemorate the day that Jie died, the Cold Food (Hanshi) Festival came into being.
In the second year after Jie’s death, the lord went up the mountain to sacrifice Jie during Springtime. He found that the willows revived fully, flowers blossomed, and the grass was green. Because of this, he instructed that the day after Hanshi should be Qingming Festival. Based on this background, we can understand why the two festivals are interlinked.
The Qingming Festival holiday plays an important role in the culture and history of the Chinese culture. It is considered the day with the best spring weather, which is the primary reason why most people travel during this time.