QingMing Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day, which falls on April 4th in 2017, is one of the most important traditional festivals not only in China but also in many other Asian countries like Indonesia and Japan. According to the tradition, lots of people visit graves, sweep tombs and commemorate their ancestors during this festival.
Almost any culture in the world has a special day to remember the ones who died and China isn’t any different. Traditionally, while visiting tombs or graves, people offer food, green tea, incense, pieces of joss paper (equivalent of money), spirits, etc. Also, sweeping the tombs, cleaning it from weeds and adding fresh soil are some of the most popular activities during this holiday. In addition, decorating tombs with willow branches is very common among Chinese people. It is believed that by doing all this, people can call out for spirits of their ancestors, please them and therefore ask to bless their families with health, luck and wealth. However, like most old customs, QingMing traditions are not really followed in big cities and rituals are usually simplified to only sweeping around the grave and burning paper money.
Although QingMing Festival is mostly associated with commemorating ancestors, this period is also believed to be a certain time gap when evil spirits and ghosts can enter the human world and interfere with living people’s lives. So as not to find bad luck or not to be caught in the eye of these undesired guests in any way Chinese people need only to stock up on willow branches. According to Buddhism, this seemingly harmless tree can be a great protector from all kinds of demons and evil ghosts: even Buddha Guanyin is always pictured with a willow branch in a vase beside her as protection from anything evil and ill-willed. In many Chinese cities, the tradition of sticking a willow branch in the ground in front of the house or placing it on a window or a door is still alive.
But it is wrong to think that this festival is dark and sad – Chinese people also believe that enjoying these several days is extremely important. Firstly, April is a real beginning of spring – the weather finally becomes warmer and trees being to turn green. That's why QingMing Festival is also associated with celebrating spring and enjoying the outside walks and picnics. And as evening promenades are getting back on the “can-do” list, it is a great opportunity to enjoy traditional Chinese kite flying. In Tianjin, flying kites is especially popular as it is a home for kite making in China. Wei kites of Tianjin - named after a well-known master - are famous all around China and local people enjoy flying them. In the past, however, kites were not made to be “tied down” – they were made without a string that allows you to let it fly at first and to pull it back afterwards. So, beautifully colored and decorated kites in the past were meant to be set free. Firstly, because it was easier to make these and secondly because kites, as per Chinese traditions, bring good luck and eliminate diseases (and you don't want to pull it back to you).
As for any other traditional festival, QingMing Festival has its own traditional food – green glutinous rice balls, peach blossom porridge, crispy cakes and eggs. Usually, all the special dishes and desserts are cooked several days before the festival – it is a custom to avoid cooking during the first day of QingMing Festival.
Like any other Chinese festival made into a public holiday, QingMing Festival is a great opportunity to enjoy some rest and travel around or at least go out for a walk. However, it is important to remember that all historical attractions, as well as parks and shopping centres, will be packed. In addition, it might be a great idea to think about buying train/airplane tickets in advance if you are willing to travel around, as a lot of Chinese people visit their families and move between bigger and smaller cities.