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Tomb Sweeping Day: The Basics

Apr. 4, 2021

Tomb Sweeping Day: The Basics

What do people do on Tomb Sweeping Day?

Qingming Festival (清明节 qīng míng jié), also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, is a traditional Chinese festival. Tomb sweeping and ancestor worship, the two main traditional customs of the holiday, have been passed down in China since ancient times.

On this day, not only will families literally sweep the tombs of and solemnly make offerings to their ancestors, but they will also gather happily and spend time in nature, enjoying the spring and taking advantage of the occasion to spend time together.

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Tomb Sweeping Day, the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival are known as China’s four traditional festivals. Besides China, some countries in other parts of the world also celebrate Qingming Festival, such as Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.

Main customs of Qingming Festival
1. Going on outings
During this holiday, “outings” are popular activities for families to do together. It’s a time to recognize and celebrate that spring has arrived, and the Qingming Festival is a particularly good time to acknowledge the season’s revival to the earth, and nature’s rebirth. Since most people’s ancestors are buried in the countryside, it really is the perfect time to return to nature.

春游 (chūn yóu): n. spring outing

2. Planting Trees
Around the Qingming Festival, the spring sun is shining and the spring rain is falling. Seeds can finally thrive, and new trees can prosper. In short, Tomb Sweeping Day is the perfect time to plant trees! Some people also call the Qingming Festival “tree planting day”. The custom of planting trees has been handed down for quite a few generations — it is said that the custom’s origins were in wearing and decorating with willow tree branches.

植树 (zhí shù): v. to plant trees

3. Flying Kites
Kite flying is another favorite activity on Qingming Festival. Chinese kites are made of bamboo strips and other frames covered with paper or silk. During the Qingming Festival, people fly kites day and night, though those used at night are special: often, a string of colorful lanterns are hung under the kite, giving the impression of like twinkling stars—these are also known as “magic lamps”. Some people even cut the kites’ strings and send them into the night sky, hoping that the kites will take bad luck and misfortunes and leave room for good luck and plenty.

放风筝 (fàng fēng zhēng): v. to fly a kite

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4. Sweeping tombs and offering sacrifices to ancestors
Tomb sweeping and ancestor worship is a way to remember our ancestors, and its customs have a long history. Tomb sweeping is the center of the Qingming Festival. The Qingming Festival is focused around ancestors and expressing filial piety and fondness for them.

扫墓 (sǎo mù): v. to sweep a tomb

Offerings to ancestors may take place before or after the actual Tomb Sweeping Day, depending on local traditions. Generally speaking, we usually set out to sweep tombs in the morning of the holiday. The common practice consists of two parts: one is to clean up or repair the tomb(s), the other is to burn paper money and offer sacrifices. When sweeping tombs, the first thing to do is to clean or fix it up. This might mean removing weeds, cultivating new soil, and kowtowing to worship. This kind of behavior can express filial piety and care for ancestors. Offerings are usually made in the form of food. These might be local delicacies, seasonal fruits, or specific dishes with specific reasonings behind them. The important thing is the meaning and intent behind the offering.

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5. Cuttings of willows
On Tomb Sweeping Day, there is a custom of placing willow tree branches. The symbolism lies in driving away ghosts and evil spirits; that’s why, in some parts of northern China, Qingming Festival, Zhongyuan Festival, and Hanyi Festival are collectively called “the Three Ghost Festivals”. Why willow trees? This comes from the Buddhist Guanyin’s depiction holding willow branches dipped in water to help all living beings, and so many people think willow branches can expelling ghosts and evil spirits (thus the nickname, “ghost wood”). Since Tomb Sweeping Day is a day of ghosts, at the time of willow sprouting season, people plant willows one after another to ward off evil spirits.

柳树 (liǔ shù): n. willow tree

6. Playing on swings
Playing on swings was one of the Qingming Festival customs in ancient China. In ancient times, swings were made of branches of trees and colored ribbons. Later, they gradually developed into a swing with two ropes and footholds. The freedom and courage associated with the activity has made it a favorite of children everywhere.

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Examples:
nǐ  tīng  shuō  guò  qīng  míng  jié  ma
你   听     说      过     清     明     节    吗?
Have you ever heard of Qingming Festival?

tīng  shuō  guò,zài  qīng  míng  jié  de  shí  hòu  rén  men  huì  qù  jì  bài  zǔ  xiān
听      说     过,   在   清      明     节    的   时   候   人     们   会  去   祭   拜  祖   先。
I’ve heard of it, people will go to worship their ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day.

nà  nǐ  zhī  dào  qīng  míng  jié  yī  bān  yǒu  nǎ  xiē  fēng  sú  huó  dòng  ma
那  你   知    道     清     明     节  一   般    有    哪   些   风   俗   活    动     吗?
Well, do you know the customs and activities of Qingming Festival?

zài  qīng  míng  jié  yǒu  de  rén  qù  chūn  yóu,yǒu  de  rén  qù  sǎo  mù,hái  yǒu  de  rén  qù  zhí  shù
在    清     明    节    有     的  人     去    春     游,有     的    人    去    扫    墓, 还   有   的  人  去   植   树。
On Tomb Sweeping Day, some people go for spring outings, some go to sweep tombs, and some go to plant trees.

hǎo  de,xiè  xiè  nǐ  de  jiè  shào。
好    的, 谢    谢  你   的   介   绍。
OK, thank you for your explanation.

You May Want to Learn More :
“The Different Meanings Behind “What do you mean?” in Chinese”
“Why Chinese “教师节 (jiào shī jié)” Teacher’s Day Is Special”
”Top 4 Chinese New Year Traditions Explained”

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