Tomb Sweeping Day, or Clear Bright Festival (Qing Ming Jie) is a traditional Chinese festival and Taoist holiday, celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, or the 1st day of the 5th solar term.
Other names for this festival include: Spring Remembrance, Ancestors Day, All Souls Day, Chinese Memorial Day, Grave Sweeping Day, and the Festival for Tending Graves.
As its names imply, this festival has two main purposes: (1) to celebrate the coming of Spring, and (2) to remember, honor and tend to the graves of deceased ancestors.
The Origin Of Tomb Sweeping Day
Tomb Sweeping Day is believed to have originated in the Tang Dynasty, with Emperor Xuanzong. As the story goes, the Emperor noticed that there were an abundance of overly extravagant ceremonies and festivals being enacted, in honor of various ancestors. As a way of putting an end to this over-zealous celebrating, he passed a decree which stated that such celebrations could happen only at the graves of the ancestors, and on only one day of the year: Qingming.
Qing Ming Jie As A Celebration Of Spring
Today, Qing Ming Jie is celebrated by taking time to be outside, appreciating the green of Spring – the rebirth of the natural world -- and the beginning of planting season. It’s traditional for families to go on outings, and to sing, dance, or to fly kites. Another traditional ritual is to color eggs, and then break them open -- a symbol of Spring’s opening of new life.
Tomb Sweeping Day As An Honoring Of Ancestors
Tomb Sweeping Day is also an important time to remember, honor and tend the graves of deceased ancestors. The graves are swept clean of any dirt. Weeds are pulled, and overgrown shrubs etc. trimmed. Once the graves are made clean and tidy, offerings are laid out for the ancestors: food, tea, chopsticks, and wine are common offerings. Also common is the burning of joss paper – called “spirit money” or “ghost money.”
Joss paper is made of bamboo or rice paper, and traditionally cut into squares. The paper represents and is made to look like various forms of money, e.g. bills or credit cards. More contemporary joss paper creations include paper mache clothing, houses, cars, servants etc. On Tomb Sweeping Day, these are burned as offerings to honor the ancestors, as well as to invoke their continuing help and guidance.
Qing Ming Jie is an occasion not only to honor ones personal ancestors, but also to pay respects to those who have died in the course of important political movements or events, e.g. those who lost their lives in the Tiananmen Square incident.