The Qingming Festival is a traditional festival celebrated in China, Singapore and Malaysia. You might know it as ‘Tomb-sweeping day’ or ‘Ancestors’ day’, a day when people honor their deceased ancestors. But it’s also a day to celebrate spring, and all the beauty that comes with it. Qingming is proceeded by the Cold Food Festival, which takes place over three days starting the day before the Qingming Festival.
A day of honoring the dead…
People commemorate and show respect to their ancestors by visiting their graves. They sweep the tombs, remove weeds, add fresh soil to the graves, stick willow branches on the tombs and burn incense and paper money, which are offerings to the dead so that they too can buy whatever their heart desires in the afterlife.
… And a Spring outing
But Qingming is not just a day of mourning and honoring the dead. The festival is also a Spring outing. It falls on a day not long before everything turns green, and well into the flower season. An important custom to celebrate the beginning of Spring, is to fly kites outside.
Little colored lanterns are often tied to the kites or to the strings that hold the kites. When it flies in the evening or at night, the lanterns look like stars. People used to cut the string to let the kite fly freely, because they believed that this would bring good luck to their family and friends.
The origin of Qingming festival
It is believed that once there was a man named Jie Zitui. He lived in Shanxi province in 600 B.C. When his ruler was forced to live in exile, legend has it that Jie saved his starving lord’s life by cutting a piece of his own leg and cooking it for him. When the ruler found out, he bowed down in gratitude.
When the lord later became the Duke Wen of Jin, he ordered a search for Jie Zitui who had gone into hiding in the remote mountains with his mother. Jie had no political ambitions and refused to visit the Duke. The Duke ordered the mountains to be burned down to force Jie out of hiding, but ended up killing him and his mother.
Filled with remorse, the Duke ordered that each year, during these days, cooking food was forbidden. All food was to be consumed cold. This marked the beginning of the Cold Food Festival. The custom of inserting willow branches and burning money was added later.