[ 2007-03-31 19:55 ]
Celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, Tomb
Sweeping Day is one of the few traditional Chinese holidays that follows the
solar calendar-- typically falling on April 4, 5, or 6.
Its Chinese name
"Qing Ming" literally means "Clear Brightness," hinting at its importance as a
celebration of Spring. Similar to the spring festivals of other cultures, Tomb
Sweeping Day celebrates the rebirth of nature, while marking the beginning of
the planting season and other outdoor activities.
Qing Ming Jie in Ancient Times
In ancient times, people celebrated Qing Ming Jie with
dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. Colored boiled eggs would be broken
to symbolize the opening of life. In the capital, the Emperor would plant trees
on the palace grounds to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. In the
villages, young men and women would court each other.
The Tomb Sweeping Day as Celebrated Today
With the passing of time, this celebration of life
became a day to the honor past ancestors. Following folk religion, the Chinese
believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors looked after the family.
Sacrifices of food and spirit money could keep them happy, and the family would
prosper through good harvests and more children.
Today, Chinese visit their family graves to tend to any
underbrush that has grown. Weeds are pulled, and dirt swept away, and the family
will set out offerings of food and spirit money. Unlike the sacrifices at a
family's home altar, the offerings at the tomb usually consist of dry, bland
food. One theory is that since any number of ghosts rome around a grave area,
the less appealing food will be consumed by the ancestors, and not be plundered
Honoring ancestors begins with proper positioning of a
gravesite and coffin. Experts in feng shui, or geomancy, determine the quality
of land by the surrounding aspects of streams, rivers, trees, hills, and so
forth. An area that faces south, with groves of pine trees creates the best flow
of cosmic energy required to keep ancestors happy. Unfortunately, nowadays, with
China's burgeoning population, public cemetaries have quickly surplanted private
gravesites. Family elders will visit the gravesite at least once a year to tend
to the tombs.
While bland food is placed by the
tombs on Qing Ming Jie, the Chinese regularly provide scrumptious offerings to
their ancestors at altar tables in their homes. The food usually consists of
chicken, eggs, or other dishes a deceased ancestor was fond of. Accompanied by
rice, the dishes and eating utensils are carefully arranged so as to bring good
luck. Sometimes, a family will put burning incense with the offering so as to
expedite the transfer of nutritious elements to the ancestors. In some parts of
China, the food is then eaten by the entire family.
the traditions of honoring the dead, people also often fly kits on Tomb Sweeping
Day. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Designs could
include frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, bats, and storks.