The Qingming Festival: My Traditions

What is the Qingming Festival?

Spring marks the arrival of the Qingming (清明节) festival in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The Qingming festival goes by many names including Tomb Sweeping Day, Ancestor’s Day, and the Clear Bright Festival. Its name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (踏青 Tàqīng, "treading on the greenery") and tend to the graves of the departed.

My family activities

For my family, the Qingming Festival is a time to get together and visit the graves of my close relatives. Me and my grandfather would always enjoy walking to my great grandmother’s grave after lunch. We would laugh and chat the entire way. When we got to her grave site we would burn spirit money. Other people burn paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, and phones because it is believed that these things still hold value in the afterlife.

After burning the spirit money, we take turns to kowtow three times before my great grandmother’s tomb, praying that our ancestors’ spirits bless and protect us. We then light firecrackers and walk up a hillside to take some azalea back and have dinner together at my grandmother’s place.

The modern cemetery

My grandfather on my mother’s side passed away in 2009, but he wasn’t buried in a field or on a hillside like some of my other relatives. He was buried in a more modern cemetery. In a modern cemetery all the graves are placed in order and shared the same shape. People still burn spirit money, paper, incense and firecrackers, however modern cemeteries in big cities are also ushering new traditions. Some people now carry flowers to gravesites. This is an evolution of our ancient traditions. As pollution becomes more of a problem in everyday Chinese life, smoke and noise creating traditions such as lighting fireworks and burning spirit money become more and more rare.

Ancestral Stories

The Qingming festival is also a day where we retell stories of our ancestors. My father and aunt told me a story about my great grandfather. He graduated from one of the most prestigious of all military academies in China; the Kuomitang Army Officer’s Academy (aka Whampoa Military Academy). He travelled to Japan and died there, far away from his family. Chinese people always want to be buried at home so he was finally sent back home to rest forever.

The Qingming Festival is About Family

Very little is as important as family in China, and the Qingming festival is a time when we get to connect with our family as well as with our ancestors. We honor our ancestors at grave sites and pray the ancestors' spirits bless us as well.