It’s that time of the year again! Every street corner in Beijing will be filled with people burning paper money and the sky will be full of kites, well, kind of. Qingming Festival (清明节) or Tomb Sweeping Day, rolls around early April every year and it is a day to celebrate life and commemorate the dead. It is also a day that marks the nascent spring warmth, falling on April 4 this year.
Qingming Festival entails many rituals, chief among them is usually a day out spent visiting and tidying ancestors’ graves (hence the name Tomb Sweeping Day) as well as placing lilies and chrysanthemums, flowers usually associated with death. Families also offer food and burn incense in honor of those who have passed. You may also see families burning money, often at the side of the road at night, which are offerings to the dead so that they too can buy whatever their heart desires in the afterlife.
The origin of the sacred festival is a classic urban legend that involves cannibalism and accidental murder. Nevertheless, the festival has become a classic celebration for Chinese people worldwide.
Qingming is also known as Taqing Festival. Tàqīng (踏青) means spring outing, an event usually that would usually involve enjoying April’s perfect spring air, except the chances of doing so are increasingly slim. A popular family activity is kite-flying and it is customary to fly a kite with colored lanterns tied to the end. There is a superstition that if you let go of the kite, it will ward off diseases and bring good luck.
Judy Zhao, a native Beijinger, celebrates Qingming Festival by going to the graves of her grandparents as well as her husband’s grandparents to sweep. “I also like to spend the day riding my bicycle and flying kites to welcome the spring,” she says.
According to Minna Zhao, who is originally from the Northeastern city of Jilin, “Every Qingming Festival, my parents along with their relatives would bring flowers to my grandparents’ graves.” However, Zhao also mentioned that the festival is “just another public holiday for unmarried people,” given that Qingming Jie is a family holiday and married couples or parents have a bigger responsibilty to honor their deceased in-laws or grandparents. The younger, unmarried generation usually tags along with their parents or will opt out of the tomb-sweeping tradition altogether.
Of course, we’re mostly excited at the prospect of having three days off work, but there are more things to be excited about during Qingming Festival. A day of celebration and commemoration means a day filled with food, food, and more food. A traditional staple dish to eat during the festival, especially in southern China, are sweet green rice balls, or 青团 qīngtuán, made of glutinous rice and vegetables – hence the color – and stuffed with sweetened bean paste. There is also a Qingming snails dish which is cooked in ginger, soy sauce, and cooking wine; think of it as Chinese escargots.
If you are a foreigner in China who’s looking for ways to celebrate Qingming Festival, consider participating in these activities (or, you know, stay home and chill):
Tomorrow: Zhenbiancheng Great Wall Loop Hike
Enjoy spring fresh air away from the bustle of Beijing with fellow hikers from Beijing. Venture to the border of Beijing and hike up valleys, along peach orchards, and the Great wall. This part of the Great Wall is seldom visited and is very quiet. Celebrate Qingming Festival by taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature and (hopefully) good air. 7.30am-6pm.
Tuesday, Apr 4: Let’s Talk About Ghosts
Educate yourself with the customs and history of Qingming Festival by attending this educational yet fun gathering. That’s Mandarin is going to celebrate the holiday with you sharing ghosts stories. Scary costumes are encouraged. 7-9pm