Qingming Festival, also called Tomb Sweeping Day or Pure Brightness in English, usually falls on April 4 or 5. Qingming (清明) is the second of 24 solar terms on the traditional Chinese solar calendar. It is also a time for people to go outside and start enjoying the greenery of spring.
In 2017 Qingming Festival falls on April 4. The three-day public holiday in China is April 3–5, 2017.
Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese festival and an important day of sacrifice for most people (including the Han Chinese and China's 55 other ethnic minorities) to go and sweep tombs and commemorate their ancestors. On this day, tomb sweeping is one of the most important and popular activities to show respect to ancestors.
On May 20, 2006, the festival was listed as one of the first national intangible cultural heritage events. Learn more about the death culture in China!
There are various activities for Qingming Festival. The most popular ones, including tomb sweeping, spring outings, and kite flying, and putting willow branches on gates, have been an important part of this festival since the beginning.
People often participate in a sport to ward off the cold and in anticipation of the arrival of spring. The festival integrates both reverence and fun through its customs.
People commemorate and show respect to their ancestors by visiting their graves, and offering food, tea, wine, incense, joss paper (representing money), etc. They sweep the tombs, removing weeds, and adding fresh soil to the graves, stick willow branches on the tomb, and burn incense and 'paper money'.
They pray before their ancestors' graves and beseech them to bless their families. However, the custom has been greatly simplified today, especially in cities, where only flowers are presented to the dead relatives.
During Qingming Festival, people wear soft willow branches and place the branches on gates and front doors. People believe that this custom will ward off wandering evil spirits during Qingming.
That willows are considered magical is mainly a Buddhist influence. Traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin often show her seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The goddess used this mysterious water and branch to scare away demons.
According to historical records there is an old saying, "Put willow branches up on gates; drive ghosts away from houses."
Qingming is also called Taqing Festival. Taqing (踏青 /taa-ching/ 'tread green') means a spring outing, when people get out and enjoy the spring blossoms. The festival usually falls on a day not long before everything turns green in the north, and well into the spring flower season in the south. It marks the beginning of the season when people spend more time outside as the weather warms up.
Learn more about The Best Places to Visit in Spring in China.
Flying kites is also an important custom enjoyed by many people, young and old, during the Qingming Festival. The uniqueness of kite flying during the Qingming Festival lies in that kites are not only flown during the day but also in the evening.
Little colored lanterns are tied to the kites or to the strings that hold the kites. When kites fly in the evening, the lanterns look like twinkling stars.
In the past, people cut the string to let the kite fly freely. People believe that this custom can bring good luck and eliminate diseases.
Kite flying is popular throughout all of China and you will see people doing it on big squares or in parks throughout the entire country. Learn more about Chinese kites.
The day before Tomb Sweeping Day was the traditional Chinese Cold Food Day. As time passed, the two festivals were gradually combined into one. On the cold food festival day, people used no fire and only ate cold food. Now people in some places still have the custom of eating cold food on Qingming Festival.
Different places have different foods for Qingming Festival. The traditional Qingming festival foods include sweet green rice balls, peach blossom porridge, crispy cakes, Qingming snails, and eggs. These foods are usually cooked one or two days before the arrival of the Qingming Festival.
Sweet Green Rice Balls (青团 qīngtuán /ching-twann/ 'green dumpling(s)') are a popular Qingming food, which are made of a mixture of glutinous rice powder and green vegetable juice, and stuffed with sweetened bean paste. Sweet green rice balls are jade-green in color, glutinous in taste, and sweet in aroma.
Qingming cakes are called sazi (撒子sāzi /saa-dzuh/ [phonetic]) or hanju (寒具 hánjù /han-jyoo/ 'cold tools'). They are a crispy fried food, made of wheat flour or glutinous rice flour, eggs, sesame, onion, salt, and other ingredients.
Among some Chinese ethnic minorities, such as the Uygur in Xinjiang, the Dongxiang in Gansu, the Naxi in Yunnan, and the Hui in Ningxia, sazi is very famous for its great varieties and various flavors.
Peach blossom porridge is a kind of porridge cooked with fresh peach blossom and rice.
Qingming snails is a dish cooked with snails, onions, ginger, soy sauce, cooking wine, and sugar.
Read more about unusual ingredients in Chinese food.
The Qingming Festival started from the Zhou Dynasty, and has a history of over 2,500 years.
It originated from the extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies that many ancient emperors and wealthy officials held in honor of their ancestors. They offered sacrifices to their ancestors and beseeched them to bless the country with prosperity, peace, and good harvests.
In the year 732, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, declared that respect could only be paid formally at ancestors' graves on the first day of the Qingming solar term. From then on, sweeping tombs on the first of Qingming gradually became popular with both royal and common families, and has lasted over a millennia. Learn more about the legend of Qingming Festival.
Qingming Festival is a national holiday in China. Many Chinese people will make use of the 3-day holiday to go traveling. Therefore, during the Qingming Festival, most attractions will be crowded, cheap public transport (like buses and train) will be sold out, and accommodation may be slightly more expensive.
Contact us and we can help you avoid the hassles, and have a China experience that includes the best of the Qingming Festival.