The Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese fest on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring around April 5th of the Gregorian calendar. Astronomically, it is also a solar term. The Qingming festival falls on the first day of the fifth solar term, named Qingming. Its name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (Taqing, "treading on the greenery") and tend to the graves of departed loved ones.
Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in Taiwan and in the Chinese jurisdictions of Hong Kong and Macau. Its observance was reinstated as a public holiday in mainland China in 2008, after having been previous suppressed by the ruling Communist Party in 1949.
The holiday is known by a number of names in the English language:
- All Souls Day (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic holiday, All Souls, Day, of the same name)
- Clear Bright Festival
- Ancestors Day
- Festival for Tending Graves
- Grave Sweeping Day
- Chinese Memorial Day
- Tomb Sweeping Day
- Spring Remembrance
Qingming Festival is when Chinese people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. Traditionally, people brought a whole rooster with them to the graves visited, but the occasion hs become less formal over time. The festival originated from Hanshi Day, (literally, a day with cold food only), a memorial day for Jie Zitui or Jie Zhitui. Jie Zitui died in 636 B.C., in the Spring and Atumn Period. He was one of the many followers of Duke Wen of Jin before he became a duke. Once, during Wen's nineteen years of exile, they had no food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie had obtained the soup. It turned out Jie had cut a piece of meat from his own thigh to make the soup. Wen was so moved he promised to reward him one day. However, Jie was no the type of person who sought rewards. Instead, he just wanted to help Wen to return to Jin to become kind. Once Wen became duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from him. Duke Wen rewarded the people who helped him in the decade, but for some reason he forgot to reward Jie, who by then had moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Wen went to the forest, but could not find Jie. Heeding suggestions form his officials, Duke Wen ordered men to set the forest on fire to force out Jie. However, Jie died in the fire. Feeling remorseful, Duke Wen ordered three days without fire to honor Jie's memory. The county where Jie died is still called Jiexiu ("the place Jie rests forever").
The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honor their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper accessories, and /or libations to the ancestors. The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and /or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit wanders on Qingming.
On Qingming people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, dance. Qingming is also the time when young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is to fly kites in the shapes of animals or characters from Chinese operas. Another common practice is to carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense or firecrackers.