Unlike many other Chinese Festivals, the date of Qingming Festival is determined by China’s traditional solar calendar instead of China’s lunar calendar. It almost always falls on April 4th or 5th.
In 2024, Qingming Festival occurs on Thursday, April 4th, which will be a one-day public holiday for most Chinese people.
When is the Auspicious Time to Do Tomb Sweeping?
It is considered that the optimum time to make a sacrifice is from 9 am to 11 am. The latest time for these rites should not be later than 3 pm.
In Chinese traditional culture, people believe that living beings on Earth have positive energy (yang qi in Chinese) and departed spirits in the underworld have a very heavy negative energy. It is not considered good for the health of the living to be exposed to such negative energy for very long.
During a day, it is believed that positive energy gradually becomes stronger toward midday, with the strongest 2-hour period being from 9 to 11 am, so burning joss paper offerings and sweeping tombs during that time is considered to have least impact on living beings.
When are the Auspicious Dates for Tomb Sweeping?
With many different times to do tomb sweeping observed in China, in summary, the custom is mainly carried out during the 10 days before or after the day of Qingming Festival—March 26 to April 15 in 2023. Some regions might extend this window for longer.
In Northern China:
According to traditional customs, people in Beijing usually visit tombs on odd dates approaching the Qingming Festival—March 27, 29, 31, and April 1, 3 in 2023.
People in Shandong Province visit tombs in the four days before the festival or on the day itself—April 1–5, 2023.
In the south of Shanxi Province, people visit graves twice, the first time is for family tomb sacrifices, and the other is for temple sacrifices to pay respect to their common ancestors.
In Southern China:
Shanghainese have different ways to visit new tombs (interred less than 3 years) and old ones. New graves should be venerated with religious rites and the chanting of scriptures. Old ones should be visited in the seven days before or eight days after the festival (March 29 to April 13 in 2023).
People in Zhejiang Province visit their tombs within the period three days before to four days after the festival date (April 2–9, 2023).
In southern Fujian Province, Hakka people do their sacrifices after Lantern Festival and up to Qingming Festival (February 6 to April 5, 2023). The exact date is up to each family to decide.
Tomb sweeping in Taiwan starts from winter solstice and continues to Qingming Festival (December 22, 2022 to April 5, 2023). Many of their customs are similar to the Hakka people’s.
Traditionally, Cantonese sweep their tombs in the period between 3 days before and after the day of Qingming (April 2 to April 8, 2023), and it is considered disrespectful to do so too early or too late.
Why is Qingming Festival in April?
Qingming Solar Term
Qingming is the largest event for paying respect to ancestors in China. It is also the 5th of China’s 24 solar terms that mark the changing of seasons and observed natural phenomena. Qingming (清明) means ‘bright-clear’, as the weather was observed to become noticeably brighter and clearer at this time (when not raining).
This was considered a good time to sweep tombs, whether for spiritual reasons of increased positive energy (see above), or simply for practical reasons of enough warmth and not a great deal of vegetation growth as yet. Hence Qingming Festival (start of the Qingming solar term) is observed as a veneration day in April.
Why Does the Date of Qingming Change?
Qingming Festival marks the start of one of the solar terms that split the year into 24 divisions of 15 or 16 days on China’s traditional solar calendar. The start of Qingming is observed annually, but not on the same day on the internationally-used Gregorian Calendar, occurring on April 4th or 5th or rarely the 6th.
The 24 solar terms are based on the Sun's position in the zodiac, and each solar term represents 15° of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
When day and night are of equal length in spring, the sun is at celestial longitude 0°. This occurs on 20th or 21st of March and is known as the Vernal Equinox (the name of the solar term before Qingming). Qingming begins when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 15°, on the 15th or 16th day after the Vernal Equinox, that is April 4th or 5th, usually.
As the Earth takes about 365.25 days to orbit the Sun, one day is added every four years (February 29th every leap year). On a leap year, Qingming Festival occasionally moves forward one day to April 4th. The festival rarely falls on April 6th. The last time this occurred was in 1943, and it’s not forecast again this century.
The pattern we currently observe is that Qingming Festival (start of Qingming) falls on April 4th every leap year and the following year and then April 5th on the remaining two years each 4-year cycle. See the table below:
|Year||Dates for Qingming Festival|