Tomb Sweeping Day Festival in China

Tomb Sweeping Day Festival

Nora Zheng
2097 Words/9 Minutes, By Nora Zheng, Updated January 14, 2023
  • Chinese: 清明节 / qīng míng jié
  • When: April 4th or 5th
  • Activities: Outing in the countryside, sweeping graves and worshiping ancestors
  • Holiday: 1 day holiday, plus weekends there will be 2-3 days
  • Travel tips: Tomb-sweeping Day plus weekends may have 2-3 days of holidays, tourists will increase, and hotel prices will rise.

Tomb Sweeping Day Festival is one of the eight most important traditional festivals in China, the others being the Lantern Festival, the Beginning of Summer, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Ghost Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Winter Solstice, and Chinese New Year's Eve. The actual day usually occurs around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar but the Festival lasts longer. Traditionally, 10 days before and 8 (or 10) days after Tomb Sweeping Day can be counted as the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival, i.e. about 20 days altogether. The festival originates from the funerals of emperors, generals, and ministers in ancient times. The rituals performed at these funerals later became popular among ordinary people. Over time the tradition of offering sacrifices to the ancestors and sweeping tombs was passed down from generation to generation and evolved into a custom widely observed by the Chinese nation.

Date and Holidays of the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival

Tomb-sweeping Day is usually on April's fourth or fifth day. If it falls on a weekend, there is usually a 2-3 day holiday. The number of tourists will increase, and the cost of travel will increase accordingly.

Year Date(Holiday) Year Date(Holiday)
2023Apr. 5 2029 Apr. 4
2024Apr. 4 2030  Apr. 5-7
2025Apr. 4-6 2031 Apr. 5-6
2026Apr. 5-6 2032 Apr. 3-4
2027 Apr. 3-5 2033 Apr. 2-4
2028 Apr. 4 2034 Apr. 5

The Origin of the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival

Tomb Sweeping Day Festival has its roots in the Shang Dynasty and is known as one of the traditional festivals observed by the Han Chinese. One of the 24 solar terms, usually occurs around April 5. It is also known as Qingming Festival, when spring is in the air, the earth looks clearer and brighter with increasing rainfall, and everything in the natural world, whether plant or human, waves goodbye to the bleak memory of winter and embraces the blooming prospect of spring. This is considered a shift from yin to yang.

In ancient times the day before Tomb Sweeping Day was Hanshi Day (literally, a day with cold food only), said to be a memorial day for Jie Zitui, who died in 636 BC (the Spring and Autumn Period). He was one of the followers of Duke Wen of the Jin Kingdom before Wen became Duke. Once, during Wen's 19 years of exile, they had no food; still, Jie prepared some meat soup. Wen greatly enjoyed it and asked Jie where it came from. Jie had made the soup with a piece of meat cut from his own thigh. Wen was deeply touched and promised to reward him one day. However, Jie was not personally ambitious, wanting only to see Wen return as a just ruler for Jin.

When Wen became Duke, Jie resigned and stayed away. Duke Wen rewarded many who had helped him but forgot to reward Jie, who by then had moved into the forest with his mother. Eventually, Duke Wen went to the forest, but could not find Jie. Following his officials' advice, Wen ordered the forest to be set on fire, hoping to flush Jie out. Instead, Jie died in the fire. Feeling deeply remorseful, Wen ordered three days without fire as a gesture to honor Jie. The city of Jiexiu (the literal, place where Jie rests forever) is thus considered to be the birthplace of Hanshi Day (cold food). The forest where Jie died, originally known as Mian Hill, was re-named Jie Hill. Later, Hanshi Day and Tomb Sweeping Day were combined into one Festival. The custom of sweeping tombs was observed on Hanshi Day during the Tang Dynasty period but following the Song Dynasty the activity was deferred to the following Tomb Sweeping Day.

It is said that the word "Qingming" was used to celebrate the success of flood control and imply the idea of peacefulness after Yu the Great introduced flood control systems. During this beautiful season, flowers blossom in the warmth, and everything brims with vitality, looking clearer and brighter; definitely a good time for outings. The tradition of spring outings can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty and has been passed down through generations. Apart from enjoying the glorious natural scenery, outings involve many other activities which serve to bring out the best of the festival.

Tomb-sweeping was originally supposed to be undertaken on Hanshi Day, the day before the Festival. The Tang Emperor Xuanzong ordered people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors and sweep tombs on that day. However, Qingming follows Hanshi Day closely, so tomb sweeping was then combined into the tradition of the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the custom of tomb sweeping became increasingly popular. In ancient times children would fly kites when they were sweeping tombs. Some of the kites carried flutes that made sounds that bear a resemblance to those of Chinese Zheng. This is said to be the reason why kites were given the Chinese name "feng zheng" (literally means flutes in the wind).

Many customs concerning the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival have lapsed, such as wearing willow garlands, "shooting the willow" and playing on swings. According to historical records, Tomb Sweeping Day Festival was the most valued in the Liao Dynasty when everyone from government officials in the royal court to the masses, would play on swings and go on excursions in the spring.

Cultural connotation

Tomb-sweeping Day is the most solemn and grand ancestor worship festival of the Chinese nation. It belongs to a traditional cultural festival that pays homage to ancestors and pursues them carefully. Tomb-sweeping Day embodies the national spirit, inherits the sacrificial culture of Chinese civilization and expresses people's moral feelings of respecting ancestors, respecting ancestors, and continuing to tell stories.

  • 1. Honoring ancestors
  • 2. Go outing and get close to nature

Top 10 Activities during the Tomb Sweeping Day Festival

No. 1: Grave sweeping and worship the ancients

Qingming sacrifices vary from place to place before and after Qingming. Tomb-sweeping ancestor worship, according to the custom, usually starts sweeping the tomb on the morning of the Qingming Festival. The method or project of worshiping the Qing Dynasty varies from place to place. The common practice consists of two parts: one is to renovate the tomb, and the other is to hang and burn paper money and offer sacrifices. When sweeping the tomb, the first step is to renovate the tomb. The method is mainly to remove weeds, cultivate new soil, and then kowtow to worship. On the one hand, this kind of behavior can express the filial piety and care of the ancestors. On the other hand, in the belief of the ancients, the tomb of the ancestors has a great relationship with the prosperity and decline of the descendants, so the tomb is not to be ignored. The content of the memorial service. The sacrificial offerings are mainly food, and the varieties vary from place to place. They are delicacies that the local people think can be produced according to the economic ability of the priests, or special foods that are in line with the season.

What needs to prepare for the Grave Sweeping

Tomb-sweeping Day, you need to prepare fruit, vegetarian food, wine, snacks and other tributes, usually in odd numbers (three or five).

  • 1. Incense: Burning incense during Qingming Festival is like sending out a signal. Only when the incense is lit, the ancestors will know that their descendants are coming to worship.
  • 2. Fruits: When placing tributes on Qingming Festival, fruits must be placed. Fruits represent yin, it is best to take three or five different kinds.
  • 3. Cakes: Cakes are also essential for displaying tributes during the Ching Ming Festival. Cakes represent yang, and three or five different ones should be taken as well.
  • 4. Candles: It is best to light a candle when going to the grave on Qingming Festival, which means to illuminate the way for future generations. White candles are used for new graves, and red candles are used for old graves.
  • 5. Paper money: It is best to use traditional hemp paper money to burn paper money in graves during the Ching Ming Festival, and do not burn paper twice in a grave, and burn it all at once.
  • 6. Others: You can also bring some food or flowers that your relatives like when you go to the grave of your relatives on Qingming Festival, but try not to bring meat food.
  • 7. Tomb-sweepers in the south usually prepare firecrackers, boiled meat, chicken, three wine glasses, three bowls of rice, and three pairs of chopsticks. Let it go, while the meat, chicken, and rice are saved for the next ancestral grave.

No. 2: Outing

The Chinese nation has had the custom of Qingming outing since ancient times. In ancient times, outing in Qing Dynasty was called Tanchun, Xunchun, etc., that is, spring outing, also known as "outing in spring". It generally refers to going for a walk in the countryside in early spring. Spring outing, a seasonal folk activity, has a long history in China. Its source is the spring festival custom of farming sacrifices in ancient times, which has a profound influence on later generations. The Qingming Festival has two connotations of solar terms and festivals. The Qingming solar terms provide important conditions for the formation of the Qingming outing custom in terms of time and meteorological and phenological characteristics. Tomb-sweeping season, when spring returns to the earth, the natural world presents a vibrant scene everywhere, which is a great time for outings. People take advantage of the convenience, and the whole family, old and young, have fun in the mountains and countryside while sweeping the tomb.

No. 3: Tree planting

Before and after Qingming, the sun and rain are abundant, and the survival rate of the planted saplings is high and the growth is fast. Therefore, there is a habit of planting trees on Qingming Festival, and some people also call Qingming Festival "Arbor Day". The custom of planting trees has been passed down to this day. The custom of planting trees on Qingming Festival is said to have originated from the custom of wearing willows and planting willows in Qingming.

No. 4: Fly a kite

Kites are also known as "zhiyuan" and "yuan'er". Flying kites is a favorite activity of people during the Ching Ming Festival. A kite is a kind of aircraft that uses bamboo strips and other skeletons to paste paper or silk, and pulls a long string tied to it, and takes advantage of the wind to fly into the sky. During the Ching Ming Festival, people not only release them during the day, but also at night. At night, strings of colored lanterns are hung under the kites or on the wind-stabilized stay wires, like twinkling stars, known as "magic lamps". In the past, some people cut the strings after flying the kites into the blue sky and let the breeze send them to the ends of the earth. It is said that this can eliminate diseases and disasters and bring good luck to themselves.

What to eat during the Festival

Stories of the Festival

Nora Zheng

Hi, I’m Nora Zheng, if you like my article, please share it with your friends. Any sugguestions on this article, please contact me. Thanks!

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