April 4 is Tomb-sweeping Day in China, also known as Qingming Festival.
This ancient custom of cleaning the tombs of one’s ancestors and paying respect to them is observed on this day. It is a national holiday, however, that extends over three days.
On Tomb-sweeping Day ancestors are honored in a number of ways.
- Weeds around tombs are cleared.
- Fresh soil is added to the grave.
- Offerings are left at the tombs, usually flowers as well as the dead person's favorite food and wine.
- Paper “money” (called joss paper) is also burned near the tomb so it can transition to the afterlife and aid dead loved ones.
- Some repeatedly bow in worship before the tombstones.
- Prayers are offered for the dead.
Still today many Chinese believe such reverence assures the afterlife will take better care of their dead loved ones and assures neither those loved ones or evil spirits will afflict them.
Qingming Festival is also a time to enjoy the springtime outdoors. Often families will picnic near the gravesite of their loved ones. Others will spend time in parks or the countryside. Chinese believe that spring outings not only add joy to life but also promote a healthy body and mind.
Flying kites is also a Qingming Festival activity. Often kites are released by cutting their string. The belief is this brings good luck and eliminates the possibility of diseases. When kites are flown at night, small lanterns are attached to the kite or its string.
Other activities include wearing or carrying branches of willow trees. These are also put on the front door of homes. The belief is that willow will keep evil spirits at bay. Many people do not cook on this day; only cold food is served.
The Tomb-sweeping Festival seeks to bring balance between the grief of a loved one’s death and the joy-filled laughter of a spring outing.
For information on other public holidays in China tap here.