Qingming Festival: What is it and How to Celebrate it
The Qingming or Ching Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is a traditional Chinese festival on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either 4 or 5 April in a given year.
The festival originated from the Cold Food or Hanshi Festival which remembered Jie Zhitui, a nobleman of the state of Jin (modern Shanxi) during the Spring and Autumn Period. Amid the Li Ji Unrest, he followed his master Prince Chong'er in 655 bc to exile among the Di tribes and around China. Supposedly, he once even cut meat from his own thigh to provide his lord with soup. In 636 bc, Duke Mu of Qin invaded Jin and enthroned Chong'er as its duke, where he was generous in rewarding those who had helped him in his time of need. Owing either to his own high-mindedness or to the duke's neglect, however, Jie was long passed over. He finally retired to the forest around Mount Mian with his elderly mother. The duke went to the forest in 636 bc but could not find them. He then ordered his men to set fire to the forest in order to force Jie out. When Jie and his mother were killed instead, the duke was overcome with remorse and erected a temple in his honor. The people of Shanxi subsequently revered Jie as an immortal and avoided lighting fires for as long as a month in the depths of winter, a practice so injurious to children and the elderly that the area's rulers unsuccessfully attempted to ban it for centuries. A compromise finally developed where it was restricted to 3 days around the Qingming solar term in mid-spring.
The Qingming Festival sees a combination of sadness and happiness.
In ancient times, people celebrated the Qingming Festival with dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. People used to break colored boiled eggs to symbolize the awakening of life. In the capital, the Emperor planted trees on the palace ground to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. With the passing of time, this celebration of life turned to be a day to honor the ancestors. On this day, entire families, young and old, go to the gravesites of their deceased family members to burn incense and perform a ritual ceremony while also clearing the gravesite from overgrowth.
Today the Qingming Festival still combines many different activities, among which the most important ones are tomb sweeping, taking a spring outing or flying kites. In some regions, people wearing willow branches on the head and riding on swings can be seen during this festival. Qingming Festival afterall is a combination of sadness and happiness, perhaps bittersweet.
Qingming Festival entails many rituals, chief among them is usually a day out spent visiting and tidying ancestors’ graves (hence the name Tomb Sweeping Day) as well as placing lilies and chrysanthemums, flowers usually associated with death. Families also offer food and burn incense in honor of those who have passed. You may also see families burning money, often at the side of the road at night, which are offerings to the dead so that they can buy whatever their heart desires in the afterlife.
On each Qingming Festival, all cemeteries are crowded with people who came to sweep tombs and offer sacrifices. Traffic on the way to the cemeteries becomes extremely jammed. The customs have been greatly simplified today. After slightly sweeping the tombs, people offer food, flowers and favorites of the dead, then burn incense and paper money and bow before the memorial tablet.
In contrast to the sadness of the tomb sweepers, people also enjoy hope of Spring on this day. The Qingming Festival is a time when the sun shines brightly, the trees and grass become green and nature is again lively. Since ancient times, people have followed the custom of Spring outings. At this time tourists are everywhere.
People love to fly kites during the Qingming Festival. Kite flying is actually not limited to the Qingming Festival. Its uniqueness lies in that people fly kites not during the day, but also at night. A string of little lanterns tied onto the kite or the thread look like shining stars, and therefore, are called "god's lanterns."
The Qingming Festival is also a time to plant trees, for the survival rate of saplings is high and trees grow fast later. In the past, the Qingming Festival was called "Arbor Day". But since 1979, "Arbor Day" was settled as March 12 according to the Gregorian calendar.