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Qing Ming: A Tomb-Sweeping Day
Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods
Summer Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(2) page(s): 32
Showers can prevail on or near this holiday, some
days have but a drizzle; a few are cloudless, and
on others the sky opens up to soak everybody and
everything. This day is also known as the Pure Brightness
Festival, and on it many hike into the woods, go up a
mountain, or visit their nearest deceased relatives
tombstone. For almost three thousand years, Chinese
have trekked to the burial sites of their ancestors, swept
and cleaned up around them, then enjoyed a picnic
with them and the cold foods they brought.
In 2016, Qing Ming was on April 4th and this year it will
be celebrated on same date. In 2018 and 2019 it will be
celebrated on April 5th. This is a lunar holiday close
to the onset of Spring. It is also a National Intangible
Cultural Heritage holiday. There was also a Cold Food
Festival near it but one Emperor did say they should be
celebrated on the same day, and so now they are.
The Cold Food Festival was celebrated for Jie Zitui, a
loyal fellow who lived during the Spring and Autumn
Period (770 to 476 BCE). He cut a piece of meat from his
own leg to save his exiled hungry lord whose crown was
in jeopardy. Years later, Duke Wen tried to reward him
telling him so, but Jie and his mother hid on a mountain.
When they tried to flush them out, they set a fire where
he thought they were hiding, then they looked for them
and found them dead.
After that, the Cold Food Festival was selected to pay
tribute to Jie. The ruler forbade fires of any sort and
later combined these two days in memory of Jie, a
senior fellow in the State of Jin. That is why on this
festival, they only cold foods. Originally, it was a three
day festival but now as are other festivals, it has been
reduced to just one day. Families prepare honorific cold
foods or foods loved by their deceased relatives that
they prepared a day or two earlier. In China’s south,
these are often sweet balls of rice; in the north they are
steamed cakes with dates or date juice in them.
This cleaning up around their deceased relative’s tombs
is a practice probably started about three hundred BCE
in the Shanxi region. Many close family members put
rings of willow twigs on their heads, another form of
tribute. Some prepare snake or rabbit dishes and bring
them cold to remember the small animals who perished
in the fires made to flush Jie and his mother out from
hiding. Some sprinkle them with sesame seeds. They
read poetry, fly kites, enjoy nature, and tie small lamps
to their kites, then cut the strings and let them fly
freely. They like to watch them go skyward, and they
think happy thoughts about the deceased. Do you know
anyone who does this?
After releasing the kites and watching them for a few
minutes, they eat thee cold foods and share them
spiritually with the deceased. Some burn paper money
hoping the deceased never lack for anything in their
afterlife; many kow-tow to them, put flowers on their
graves, and offer prayers. Because not everyone can get
to the actual burial site, some do these things at a home
alter, or they hire someone to do them in their stead.
Some celebrate this holiday less often than their elders
did. They might visit a temple this day and light candles
or incense in their memory. Some young folk do give
fake or real phones and other electronics as offerings.
What do you do on this two thousand plus year festival?