Written by Juliette Qi
The Day of the Dead or Qingming (清明节 Qīngmíng jié, literally “purity (of air) and light”) is one of the most popular traditional festivals in China. For thousands of years, on the occasion of this festival, which takes place at the beginning of the spring, the Chinese are accustomed to going to the graves of their deceased loved ones, a little like the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) celebrated in Mexico and South America. Both of these festivals have a long history of bringing together rituals and activities of different origins.
The Legend of Qingming
This holiday is also called the Festival of the Cold Meal. Where does this name come from? About two thousand years ago, Chong’er, son of Prince Xiangong of Jin, was expelled from his country for nineteen years. During his exile, he suffered many trials and most of his companions abandoned him one after the other, but Jie Zitui remained at his side as his most faithful subject.
At the end of his exile, Chong’er returned to his country and ascended the throne, wishing then to reward his companions according to their merits. However, Jie Zitui was not interested in fame and fortune, so he took refuge on Mount Mianshan as a hermit with his mother. Wengong looked for them for several years, without success. Knowing that Jie was a dutiful son, Wengong ordered for the mountain to be set on fire with the intention of forcing him to come down. However, Jie Zitui and her mother had preferred to die rather than be appointed high officials. Wengong, extremely sad, buried them on that mountain.
The day Jie Zitui chose to die rather than accept the reward became the Day of the Dead. In memory of his humility on that day, all families have a cold meal that was prepared the day before to avoid using fire. Over time, it has become a custom of the Day of the Dead.
Customs of Qingming
The customs of the Qingming festival are varied and interesting. Apart from the sweeping of the tombs and the rejection of fire, there are other traditional habits such as flying kites, going on excursions to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of spring and playing on swings etc.
- Visit the Graves of the Ancestors
That day, the most important activity for the Chinese is to visit the tombs of their ancestors. After firstly cleaning the graves, offerings are prepared like food or a bouquet of flowers to express the nostalgia felt towards ancestors.
- Go on An Excursion
The Qingming festival takes place in early spring. After visiting the tombs, it’s a good time to go on a mountain excursion with the family and enjoy beautiful spring landscapes.
- Fly A Kite
The ancients believed that if one wrote their illness on a kite and made it fly high before cutting the rope, the disease would fly away with the kite. It later became a common recreational activity.
- Eat the “Green Ball”
Last but not least, a special green cake is often eaten at the Qingming Festival. Its dough is made of flour and herb sauce. The cake is stuffed with red bean puree or meat, so it is tastes sweet or salty.
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