At the time point between the end of March and beginning of April, most places in China are dampened by the continuous drizzle. Meanwhile, the booming plants and increasingly warm breeze are reminding people 清明节/Qīngmíng Jié is approaching.
清明节 Qīngmíng Jié - Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day or Chinese Memorial Day, is a very important traditional Chinese festival in Chinese culture. It falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar every year. This year, it is on April 5th.Some certain customs are witnessed during this festival. In this article, let's walk through all you need to know about 清明节!
What is the meaning of 清明？
As one of the solar terms, the meaning of 清明 is closely related to the weather. In Chinese, "清/qīng" means clearness and "明/míng" means brightness. 清明/qīngmíng together means it's the season that spring atmosphere is in the air and the weather is clear and bright. Everything is full of vitality from 清明 on.
A solar term is any of 24 periods in traditional Chinese lunisolar calendars that matches a particular astronomical event or signifies some natural phenomenon. The points are spaced 15° apart along the ecliptic and are used by lunisolar calendars to stay synchronized with the seasons, which is crucial for agrarian societies. The solar terms are also used to calculate intercalary months; which month is repeated depends on the position of the sun at the time.
Except being one of the solar terms, 清明节 is also originated from an Ancient Chinese Festival called 寒食节 Hánshí Jié - Cold Food Festival. You must be wondering about the meaning of "Cold Food Festival".There is a story behind it: Jie Zitui (介子推), a nobleman during the Spring and Autumn Period (B.C. 770 - B.C. 476). He was a loyal follower of the Duke Wen of the Jin Kingdom (晋文公). At one point when the duke was going through rough times, Jie Zitui cut some flesh from his own thigh and cooked it for the duke to keep him from starving.
When Duke Wen eventually came to power, he sent for Jie Zitui, who was living a lonely life as a poor man in the woods. In order to force Jie Zitui to respond, Duke Wen decided to set a forest fire to smoke him out from the woods. Unfortunately, Jie Zitui was killed in the fire. Feeling regretful for Jie's death, Duke Wen announced that the use of fire should be banned for days to commemorate his death.With no use of fire, the commemoration days gradually become days with eating cold food. As the custom spread, it eventually became a festival called the Cold Food Festival - 寒食节. Over time, this tradition was gradually blended with 清明节's customs and the two festivals combined.
What people usually do during 清明节?
Tomb Sweeping Ceremony - 扫墓 sǎo mùThe tomb sweeping ceremony is the most important activity during 清明节.
Chinese people believes that our ancestors have never left us, they are having their life continuously in another world. By visiting their tomb yearly during 清明节, it is a way to maintain the connection between the deceased and the living.
A traditional tomb sweeping ceremony includes many steps:
Firstly, remove the grass from the tomb. Chinese people think that if the tomb of the deceased is covered by grass, the family does not respect the deceased enough. So the first thing Chinese people do when they visit the tomb is to make sure it's nice and neat.
Next, they place joss sticks in front of the tomb, and paper money by the side of the tomb. As Chinese people believe that when you burn paper money into ash, the deceased can receive them in the other world. With this concept, some people are bringing this paper money burning custom to another level. They even buy paper houses, paper cars, paper clothes of the luxurious brands, and almost everything they can think of. This is to make sure that the deceased are having a cosy life in the other world.
Paper money and Paper cars
While burning paper money, a nice meal is placed in front of the tomb. Usually people will prepare what the person's favourite food was when he or she was alive and the meal will also be served with Chinese white wine.
Lastly, the whole ceremony will be ended with the sound of firecrackers, giving it a grand closure.
Spring Outing - 踏青 tàqīng
As I mentioned earlier that 清明 means clear and bright, this season is the golden time in spring!
The wonderful weather and pleasant temperature make 清明 the perfect timing for hiking and spring outings. Chinese people usually seize this holiday for a family trip to enjoy spring and embrace nature.
Kite Flying - 放风筝 fàng fēngzheng
Flying kites is another popular activity during 清明节. It's a very interesting custom that Chinese people like to cut the string of the kite while it's flying in the air, as they believe that flying kite away can help send away bad luck.
清明粑 qīngmíng bā & 青团 qīngtuánTo celebrate 清明节 in Southern China, people usually eat 清明粑 and 青团. They are both made with glutinous rice and Chinese mugwort. 青团 are round, sticky and slightly sweet green balls filled with sweet stuffing like red bean and jujube paste. Nowadays people like to use salted egg yolk and meat floss as stuffing for 青团, too. 清明粑 are usually dumpling shaped filled with salty stuffing like meat and vegetables.
For Northern China, people like making 馓子. They are deep fried salty dough twists. Each crunchy twist is made with multiple thin strings of dough, which makes 馓子 look like a bunch of spaghetti. You can understand it like deep fried spaghetti.All these foods are special for this season, they can be hard to find after this festival. If you have a chance, make sure you try them all!
清明节 is a mourning day and the sentiment of this day is also reflected a lot in Chinese literature. Today I'd love to share one of the most famous 清明-themed poems with you:
I hope this article can help you understand more about 清明节! Have a great holiday!
I'm also sending lots of positive thoughts to people in Shanghai now. Take good care of yourself and we are all here together with you to overcome this hardship