I can hardly believe it’s April already. Tomorrow, April 5th, is Qing Ming, a special day for every family of Chinese descent. While Qing Ming literally means Clear and Bright in English, the day is also known as: All Souls Day, Grave Sweeping Day, Tomb Sweeping Day, and Chinese Memorial Day.
Qing Ming day is a special time when families show respect and honor to their ancestors by gathering together to tend their graves. The family takes special foods, tea, and other grave goods (such as spirit money) to offer the dead at their grave. This is done because, traditionally, the departed live in a world where they still have needs. They need money, food, items for comfortable living. Once everything is officially offered up to the ancestors, the family picnics at the grave site. As we know, sharing food is an important way to show solidarity, togetherness. Thus, Qing Ming does double duty by bringing the family together to honor the dead and to strengthen family ties among the living.
We’ve just celebrated 2 rather high profile Chinese holidays: New Years and the Lantern Festival. Most people know something about these holidays. They are fun, colorful, and celebrated by Chinese and non-Chinese around the world. This picture was taken at the St Louis Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2013.
But there are many other less known festival days that are tied to traditional Chinese culture. Some of these are tied to China’s solar calendar, some the lunar calendar, and some have become intermixed. One such holiday may be 驚蟄 Jing zhe, Insects Awaken. The holiday comes in the 3rd month (note People’s Daily Online). I believe this festival is also called the Shangsi Festival [上巳 節 shàngsì jié, shanghsih jier], which today officially lands on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar*. Traditionally this began the farming season in most of China.
It is said that the thunder of spring rains awaken the insects who have been hibernating all winter. There are a range of activities to mark this day, such as a sacrificial ceremony held near water where people could clean themselves and rid themselves not only of dirt but also of last year’s bad luck. Driving out evil and bad luck is a critical part of this festival. Wormwood was hung in homes to drive out insects, rats and snakes.
Celebrants also called back the spirits of relatives and awaken their own spirits. And, as often happens, people would go outside and enjoy picnics and hikes. After all, winter was over, the spring rains had started and there was new life everywhere.
Another custom the People’s Daily mentioned was that in some areas the white tiger was honored. This was done to avoid disputes during the coming year. If someone angered or displeased the tiger, that person would have conflicts with others during the year. I especially like this story because it exemplified how important maintaining peaceful coexistence with your neighbors and family was.
This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.
Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year? Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.
While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.