The Ching Ming Festival, also known as Qingming (清明节), is a Chinese custom celebrated worldwide by people of many Asian cultures. Sometimes called Tomb Sweeping Day or the Pure Brightness Festival (pure brightness is the English translation of Qingming), it’s an annual event to remember and honor ancestors and celebrate the warming weather. It’s both reverent and fun.
The history of Qingming
Qingming dates back more than 2,500 years, to ~636 B.C. Duke Mu of Qin (秦穆公) declared a period of three days without fire to mourn his loyal servant Jie Zitui (介子推), whom the duke accidentally killed. The event was known as the Hanshi Festival, the Cold Food Festival (寒食節) or Smoke Banning Festival. The present observance of the holiday is credited to Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, who declared a formal holiday for the Chinese to respect their ancestors to prevent wealthy citizens from holding too many extravagant ceremonies.
Qingming always falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese calendar, which is the 15th day after the spring equinox: April 4, 5 or 6.
Tomb Sweeping Day traditions
A modern-day Ching Ming Festival is a time of reflection and remembering those who have passed. Families visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and tidy up the gravesites. They sweep and pull weeds from the places where their loved ones rest and make repairs if needed. They place fresh flowers, willow branches (said to ward off unwelcome ghosts) and food offerings on the graves.
They may burn joss paper money (金紙) and other objects—cars, houses, clothes, jewelry—in support of their loved ones’ happiness in the afterlife. They may also burn incense and light firecrackers to alert their ancestors of the family’s presence and scare away evil spirits.
Traditional Ching Ming foods include sweet green rice balls, peach blossom porridge, crispy cakes, snails and eggs. Because of the historical significance of cold food, these foods are usually cooked a day or two ahead of time.
Ching Ming, a spring celebration
Ching Ming is more than honoring those who have passed. The early spring date makes it naturally a celebration of life, beauty and the season of renewal. As part of Ching Ming celebrations, many families will picnic at the cemetery, fly kites, take a walk and play tug-of-war. It’s also a good time for planting flowers and trees, which many families will also do together. These activities are time spent with generations of loved ones sharing memories of those who have gone before them. In the United States and Canada, many Asian families celebrate Ching Ming. Some visit the cemeteries that are the final resting places of loved ones who died. Others will make a pilgrimage to China or another foreign land to be close to their departed. In China, Ching Ming is an official national holiday.