Thursday, 3 April 2008

Tomb Sweeping Day

So... tomorrow is Tomb Sweeping Day. It's actually on Saturday 5th April 2008 but for some reason Chinese always seem to celebrate the eve of an event more.

It's a public holiday tomorrow (which I guess makes up for the fact that hubby didn't get any days off for easter ;) )

Well, given that my ancestors 'live' overseas and I'm fortunate enough not to have any graveyards to visit I guess I don't really know anything about this day as I've never experienced it.

Qingming Festival or the "Clear and Bright" Festival is observed either on April 3,4 or 5 each year and occurs during the summer solstice.

Haishi Day (or Cold Food Day) is the very day just before the Qingming Festival. On the day every year, no fire or smoke is allowed and people shall eat cold food for the whole day.

According to the legend, the day is in memory of Jie Zhitui who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC).

Jie was a good official in the Jin State, working for Crown Prince Chong'er. When Jin State was in turmoil, Chong'er was forced to leave for other states with his henchmen, including Jie. On the way of exile they went through all kinds of hardships and difficulties. To save the starving Chong'er, Jie even cut the flesh off his own leg and boiled for Chong'er. After ascending the throne, Chong'er began to forget Jie by and by. Jie was so sad that he prepared to leave and live in seclusion with his mother in mountains.

Chong'er felt so guilty that he in person went to the mountains to look for Jie. For it was impossible to find him in the endless trees and hills, Chong'er ordered to set the mountain on fire, so as to force Jie out. But Jie didn't show up; he and his mother were found to be dead in arms after the fire was put out, together with a note written by him in blood: "I cut off my own flesh to dedicate to you, only to wish my king will always be clear and bright. "

In order to keep in memory of Jie Zitui, Chong'er issued an order to make the day Haishi Day, also named Cold Food Day. And on the Cold Food Day every year, no fire or smoke was allowed and people should eat cold food for the whole day.

It was not until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) about 300 years ago that the practice of Hanshi (or eating cold food) was replaced by that of Qingming, which had now become an important occasion for people to offer rememberances and sacrifices to their ancestors.

Today, Chinese visit their family graves to tend to any underbrush that has grown. Weeds are pulled, and dirt swept away, and the family will set out offerings of food and spirit money. Unlike the sacrifices at a family's home altar, the offerings at the tomb usually consist of dry, bland food. One theory is that since any number of ghosts rome around a grave area, the less appealing food will be consumed by the ancestors, and not be plundered by strangers.

Besides the traditions of honoring the dead, people also often fly kites on Tomb Sweeping Day. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Designs could include frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, bats, and storks.

The practice of annual visit to the family graves is quite universal and is not limited to the Chinese. Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodoxs etc.), Jews and Muslims all do it. Americans often visit the graves on the Memorial Day.

Link | Link 2

I think it is a lovely sentiment, and nice to set aside a day to honour our passed loved ones. And unlike certain other holidays it's not commercial at all.

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