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Jiangxi Culture
Customs of Tomb Sweeping Festival

Qingming, meaning clear and bright, is the most important springtime festival. It is also called Tomb Sweeping Festival, on which people visit the gravesites of their ancestors, pay respects to the dead at their tombs and hold memorial ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. This is one of many ways to demonstrate filial piety. As part of honoring the dead, people would also spend some time cleaning the gravesite area. They would uproot the weed near the gravesite, plant some new trees, wipe the tombstones and decorate the tombstone with fresh flowers.

But it is not just a day for mourning the dead. The festival is celebrated two weeks after the Vernal Equinox, and the dates usually turn out to be the 4th, 5th, or 6th of April, thus people also go out to celebrate the new season, the onset of warmer weather, the start of spring plowing as well as of family outings. Nowadays,Qingmingis not just a day of remembrance; it is also a day to celebrate the coming of spring. With the coming of spring, nature wakes up, dressing the world in green. All is new, clean and fresh; therefore,Qingmingis also a happy occasion for outdoor activities, such as picnicking, tug-of-war, kite-flying, swinging, dancing, etc. This might be an important reason why this festival has been very popular for thousands of years.

Tomb Sweeping or Ancestor Worshipping

The major custom inQingmingFestival is tomb sweeping. According to the folk religion, the spirits of deceased ancestors still live under the ground and look after the family; the tombs are said to be their houses, thus it is very important to keep the tombs clean.

TheQingmingFestival is spent by honoring the dead, which is one of many ways good Confucians demonstrate filial piety. On this day, people visit their family graves to remove any underbrush that has grown. They would uproot weeds near the gravesites, wipe the tombstones and decorate the tombstones with fresh flowers. And then they will set out offerings of food and paper money.

Burning Paper Treasures

Part of honoring the dead is to make sure that they are well-provided for -- even after death. Not only are food offered to the dead, but also, as some people figure, material goods are needed in the land of the dead. Until the Sui Dynasty (581-618), genuine articles were burnt as offerings. Eventually, people thought this practice was wasteful. It was also said that there was word from the dead that where they resided, counterfeits were just as good as the real thing. So a paper house offered by fire was just as good as a real one.

Nowadays, paper gifts to the dead may even include paper money, houses, lawn furniture, TVs, VCRs, stereo systems, refrigerators, and even cars.

Cold Foods

Because Jie Zitui had been killed by a fire, it became a tradition to abstain from lighting fires on the day ofQingming, when people could only eat cold foods that had been prepared the day before. Today, the occasion for eating cold foods translates into a picnic for the family.

Willow Trees

Because Jie Zitui died embracing a willow tree, the willow is believed to have miraculous powers against evil. During theQingmingFestival, willow branches are hung on door fronts and used to sweep the tombs.

Kite-Flying

Today inChina,Qingmingis also known as an occasion for kite-flying. Kite-flying has been an old Chinese pastime. Records about the activity were mentioned as far back as 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, people have developed kites known for their beauty.

Besides the tradition of honoring the dead, people also often fly kites on Tomb Sweeping Day. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors, designing in the shape of swallows, geese, frogs, butterflies, peacocks, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, bats and storks. They are even able to fashion kites with whistles.

Swinging

The common swing has offered sport to many children throughout the world. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), swinging was a designated recreation on theQingmingFestival, also known as the Clear and Bright Festival or the Tomb Sweeping Festival. Because the festival generally occurs in mid-spring, many also use the occasion for family outings.

According to the Annals of theMing Court, this day was also called Swing Festival, when swings were suspended in the Hall of Earthly Peace of theForbidden Cityand in all the residential complexes where palace ladies resided. Ladies of the imperial household wore colorful silks especially made for the occasion, and amused themselveson swings.